The reality of the animal kingdom can be cruel, but there are wonders to emerge from it. At the end of February 2020, a herd of goats and their herders saved a baby zebra, and the love and care from animal conservationists gave this foal a chance to return to the wild.
The zebra is Diria — named after the ranch where he was saved — and he went to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya shortly after being rescued from a near-death experience with lions.
Pride killed Diria’s mother, and when the orphaned colt instinctively ran the other way, he ran towards the goats. The herder took him to the Kenya Wildlife Service, then handed him over to the Trust’s VOI Reintegration Unit.
After Diria arrived, the Trust had to work to take care of him as a mother figure would. Rob Brandford, CEO of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, explained to us: “Zebra cubs need to be able to recognize their mother from birth to survive.”
“To learn its mother’s stripes, a mother zebra often separate her and their young from the herd so that the offspring can make their mark — essentially recognizing and follow her coat, smell, and call. Once the calf can identify its mother, the duo will return to the herd.”
Without Diria’s mother, proper care of the foal would be left to the workers. Brandford commented: “In the wild, calves will be raised alone by their mothers, but in our Reintegration Unit, it is impractical for an individual to hand-raise Diria should they go on annual leave.”
“Therefore, to prevent this fragile infant from imprinting on a person, our Guardians wear a specially made striped coat that Diria will recognize as his ‘mother’, regardless of who’s wearing it. A team of caregivers can provide Diria with the 24/7 professional care he needs to give him the best chance of survival.”
Brandford said: “Through the use of our specially manufactured jacket, a team of Keepers were able to provide intensive care, walking with him in a protected area in the vicinity of our Reintegration Unit so he can learn about his wild environment.”
Diria is affectionate with his caretakers, and he is said to “love nothing more than to snuggle up to them” – except for feeding time. “Keepers offer regular milk feeds, and at night, Diria sleeps in a stable so that he remains safe from predators.
As he grows older, it is hoped that Diria can return to her birthright: the wild and reintegrate into the herds of wild zebras that live on the doorstep of the Reintegration Unit. “