An incredibly rare zebra foal with a dark coat and a white polka-dotted pattern has been spotted in the Masai Mara National Reserve.

Once again, the African Bush creates something magical. Photographer Frank Liu was out looking for rhinos when he noticed the eye-catching young zebra, estimated to be around 1 week old.

“At first glance he looked like a different species altogether,”

Polka-Dotted Zebra Discovered In Kenya
Photo: Rahul Sachdev

Antony Tira, the Maasai guide who first discovered the foal, named him Tira, after his own surname.

A zebra’s stripes are as unique as human fingerprints, but Tira’s odd colour and patterning could be the first recorded observation in the Masai Mara, according to Liu. Similar foals have been seen in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

Along with the other foals, Tira has a condition called pseudomelanism, a rare genetic mutation which causes animals to display abnormality in their stripe pattern, says Ren Larison, a biologist studying the evolution of zebra stripes at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Partial albinism is another unusual color variation which zebras are known to experience. Earlier this year an extremely rare “blond” zebra was photographed in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

Polka-Dotted Zebra Discovered In Kenya
Photo: Rahul Sachdev

Tira’s future and longevity is uncertain—animals with such unusual coloration probably don’t survive long,

Ren Larison notes:

“Research on other species has shown that, while it is harder for a predator to target an individual in a group, it is easier if an individual is different

I have seen several photos of foals with this specific pattern over the years, but only one photo—from the ‘50s—in which the individual was either a juvenile or adult.”

(Read about a rare white giraffe and other unusually pale animals.)

Polka-Dotted Zebra Discovered In Kenya
Photo: Rahul Sachdev

Recent research by Larison and others suggests that zebra stripes evolved to deter against biting flies. This is one of five theories posed over the years which include camouflage and temperature regulation. Experiments in the field, have shown that biting flies don’t like landing on striped surfaces and unfortunately for Tira, this means that he will be a much easier ‘target’ and therefore at more risk of contracting diseases like equine influenza.

However, if Tira can survive these many hurdles and make it to adulthood, there’s no reason to think he can’t fit into the herd.

Research conducted in South Africa has found that in two separate cases of plains zebras with unusual coloration, the animals formed normal relationships with others—including mating.

SOURCE: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC