The Slatest

Everything We Know About the Maryland Zebras On the Run

Not the actual zebras. Also, not Maryland.
Tony Karumba/Getty Images

Three zebras have been frolicking through the lush, grassy knolls of Prince George’s County, Maryland, since the end of August. They’ve become internet sensations, local celebrity sightings, and, due to their deft evasion of the Prince George’s Animal Services Division, a meme of freedom.

They’ve also been a welcome reprieve from the horrible events that often dominate the news cycle. So, in my new role as Slate’s Zebra Correspondent, I’ve decided to put everything we know about these beautiful creatures in one place.

Let’s get into it.

Why are there zebras running around Maryland? 

On Aug. 31 three zebras somehow escaped from an 80-acre farm owned by Jerry Holly in Upper Marlboro, a city that is about 21 miles from the White House. These three were a part of a zeal of 30 zebras. At first it was believed that five zebras escaped—a trio and a duo—but that turned out to be wrong.

Hang on. A group of zebras is called a “zeal”?

Yes. Or a dazzle. But “zeal of zebras” sounds best.

OK, so: People can own zebras in Maryland? Is the state’s climate and landscape even hospitable to them? 

Yes and yes! Under Maryland and PG County law, you can own wild animals if you have the proper permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Daniel Rubenstein, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, told DCist that the zebras will be alright in Maryland’s environment. “They’ll do just fine, certainly during the summer, spring, and fall, in the sense that they’re grazers,” he said. “There’s plenty of grass in Prince George’s County … They should be able to survive because all the conditions are out there in terms of food and water, and there’s no lions or hyenas to eat them, and what wolves or foxes there are probably won’t harm the adults.”

There is, however, a chance that they’ll migrate South to avoid heavy snow. I’m not sure how far.

Interesting. So the zebras broke free in late August and none have been caught? 

Actually, only two zebras remain at-large. As I noted above, it was at first misreported that five zebras escaped from the farm. It was only three. And then, on Sept. 16, one of the three was killed in a snare trap. (The Washington Post just reported this yesterday, which is why there is renewed attention on the zebras.) An investigation into the zebra’s death is ongoing since snare traps are illegal in seven Maryland counties, including Prince George’s. Lauren Moses, a spokeswoman for the state’s Natural Resources Police, told the Washington Post the agency believes the zebra was frolicking and got caught. So no foul play.

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But the real kicker here is that the property where the dead zebra was found is owned by the Girl Scouts, according to Washington Post reporter Katie Mettler.

That’s a lot. I can’t imagine the internet has been quiet about this. 

I am so happy we’ve pivoted to The Discourse. There are a few impersonation accounts on Twitter, the funniest one being @MarylandZebras. The zebras have also inspired t-shirts and Halloween costumes. One user posted a video of what appears to be a zebra inside someone’s house. I can’t confirm that this is one of our zebras, but the reaction to it speaks to the zeal this zeal of zebras is generating online.

Offline is just as interesting. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, sent out a press release denying that she freed the zebras as a way to make another pitch for D.C. statehood. And people are apparently real life “zebra hunting” with their children. (Please do not get anywhere near the zebras. While it’s most likely that they’ll just run away from you, that’s not a good bet to place—especially since zebras bite or kick when they feel threatened.)

So how will the authorities go about catching the zebras? 

They have to be lured with food, corralled, fenced in, and then put on a truck. You can’t chase them because their fight-or-flight response kicks on and they’ll flee. Or, they’ll kick and bite if cornered—as we discussed earlier.

When do authorities expect to finally capture the zebras?

In early September, Rodney Taylor, chief of the Prince George’s animal services division, told the Washington Post it could take as long as a week. Now it’s Oct. 15. So, honestly, who knows?


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