Zebras On The Loose In Maryland For More Than A Month

Zebras standing in dirt

It is now October.

The five zebras roaming suburban Maryland have been on the loose since late August.

The situation got more peculiar when a member of Congress issued a tongue-in-cheek alibi attempting to pardon herself from freeing the zebras.

About a month ago, Rodney Taylor, the Chief of Prince George’s County’s animal services department, said the five zebras were incredibly difficult to catch but that authorities were doing everything they could to tranquilize the animals so they could be returned to the farm from which they escaped.

Well, a month later, the zebras are still on the loose, and there is no sign that they are any closer to being captured.

Some scientists maintain that zebras should be this difficult to find and subdue, yet there are no signs the zebras will be apprehended anytime soon. Over the course of the last month, several suburban Maryland residents have taken pictures and video recordings of the zebras turning up in random and unexpected places. 

While Maryland might seem like a difficult place for zebras to live, Daniel Rubenstein, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, is one of the foremost zebra experts. He recently published research related to how the animals’ stripes help them regulate body temperature. According to The Guardian, Rubenstein says Maryland provides some surprisingly good habitat for the zebras. 

“They’re fine. Horses, the three species of zebra, two species of ass, they’re all basically grazers. They browse a little, but 90% of their diet is grass. And in the Maryland countryside, there’s plenty of grass.” 

It’s important to note that he’s not being crass when he refers to the two species of ass. There are two species known as wild asses in Africa and Asia that are essentially wild donkeys and closely related to zebras. 

Though zebras are native to Africa’s hot and arid plains, they are more than capable of surviving winter in Maryland. The average low winter temperature for the Upper Marlboro area of Maryland is about 32 degrees. Meanwhile, wild zebras have thrived on the frigid slopes of Mount Kenya, which gets colder than that. The zebras could also instinctually migrate south towards warmer temperatures. 

Rubenstein also reiterates that people should not approach the zebras under any circumstances and explains that zebras may bite or kick when approached by people. 

“They’re wild animals. People are not their friends.”

A reporter from The Guardian went to Upper Marlboro to try tracking the zebras, and they caught up with John Henry Gray, a self-proclaimed animal nerd who shared his thoughts on where the zebras might be hanging out. 

“They took the railroad tracks. Follow the railroad tracks and you’ll find them. Because it’s off the beaten path and it’s their natural instinct to follow a path.”

Gray frequently hikes in the area, and while he has not seen the zebras, he said he’d seen otters, weasels, and all the other wildlife the area is home to. He thinks the zebras are hiding out in Jug Bay; a 1,500-acre wetlands preserve along the Patuxent River. 

“If I was a zebra, that’s where I’d be.” 

Rubenstein thinks that Gray might actually be right about that, confirming that zebras are a water-dependent species that need to drink water at least once a day to survive. He said observing watering holes for hoof prints is a common way to track zebras. 

There are two subspecies of zebras in the wild, mountain zebras and plains zebras.

It is unknown exactly which type of zebras are on the loose, but they are most likely plains zebras since those are far more common. Plains zebras are known to form tight membership groups, and Rubenstein says that the zebras will most likely stick together while roaming free throughout the Maryland suburbs, so if authorities can find one of them, they will find them all. 

Rubenstein said that because zebras have not been domesticated as a species, the animals are instinctually wild and likely have no intention of directly interacting with humans again. 

“We domesticated horses. They’re dependent on us for their wellbeing. But zebras, we haven’t domesticated them. It is a wild animal.

So you can feed it, and it will be happy with that. But if it gets away, it still has the ability to survive on its own. Just as horses could – but horses know life is easier if they come and associate with people.”

Although the zebras continue to evade capture, their presence in the area has been well documented by residents of the area who continue to randomly catch a glimpse of them. 

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock