Visitors to Serengeti National Park Tanzania, Africa will see zebras, a lot of zebras. They are one of the most numerous animals in the park estimated at a quarter million individuals. Among them is one zebra visitors are unlikely to see though it stands out like a sore thumb – a “golden zebra”. Thanks to Sergio Pitamitz you don’t have to see it in person to believe it. An avid wildlife photographer, Pitamitz recently snapped photos of a golden zebra, one of few ever documented living in the wild.
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Golden zebras are so named because of their light colored stripes. While Albinism is the absence of color pigments or melanins, amelanism is an abnormality of pigment. Golden zebras exhibit amelanism resulting in light or “golden” colored stripes.
The potential for golden zebras in the wild is recognized because several live in captivity. Zoe, a captive bred zebra, lived at an animal sanctuary on the Big Island, Hawaii. She lived a normal zebra life until she passed away at age 19 in 2017. Typical of amelanism she was affected by kidney problems and poor night vision and carefully monitored having a higher propensity to develop skin cancer.
Literally nothing is known about how, or if, a wild golden zebra adapts to survive. Zebras recognize one another by sound and smell so the unusual markings are unlikely to alarm other zebras. But does the unique coloring make it easier for predators to spot? Will its coloration be proliferated to its offspring? Is it susceptible to the same medical conditions observed in Zoe? Certainly the scientific community and animal behavioralists will be keen to learn from this special zebra. Given the odds of locating the animal a second time, its secrets are certainly safe.