So you want a zebra, but you don't have the manpower to pull off a zoo heist? Well, procuring one may be easier than you may think -- if you don't mind getting an older, less trainable male, you can get Mr. Horsey's exotic cousin for as little as $1,500 by 3 p.m. today.
When Loren Worley decided he wanted a zebra, the first thing he did was ... nothing. Well, not nothing exactly. He researched his options, asking zebra owners across the country every possible question he could think of while he built a barn on his 15-acre Troutman farm for his zebras-to-be.
He learned, for instance, that mountain and grevy's zebras require a special exotic animal license because they are endangered (so his choice was limited to planes zebras). He didn't learn what the lifespan of a zebra was. For some reason there is no consensus how long a zebra can live. Loren thinks it's around 25 years.
A trainer at the Carolina Zoo in Asheboro offered some zebra advice. She said, "the worst mistake you'll ever make is getting a zebra. Zebras might get tame, but they'll never get gentle. You can never handle them. You can never trust them. You ought to get llamas."
But he didn't want a llama; he wanted a zebra. The two zebras he eventually chose, half sisters Ziggy and Zelda, were of the Grants subspecies. Grants are preferred by most Zebra owners because they have fewer shadow stripes -- the lighter stripes in between bold strips which detract from the classic black and white look.
Ziggy is the good zebra. She responds to commands and seeks affection (some zebras can even be trained to ride, although that is rare); Zelda is the wild child, stubborn and untamed, often influencing Ziggy into unrestraint. The two zebras have different fighting styles. If they're backed in a corner, Zelda will kick and Ziggy will bite. "But both of them will do both," Loren added.
Loren and his wife Beverly believe the difference in demeanor has to do with when they were separated from the herd. Ziggy came first, at five weeks old and developed a bond with humans when she was nursed. Zelda was adopted at eight weeks and spent considerable time roaming with a herd.
Loren admits his patience often runs thin with Zelda. "If I wanted to put a halter on Zelda, it would probably take me three hours, maybe more than that. If you had a horse, it would take you five minutes." As a result, Loren hasn't spent as much time with them as he envisioned.
Beverly, though, has grown more attached over time. "They're my sweethearts. I just look at them and it melts my heart," she says.
I ask, as a joke, if the zebras are black with white stripes or white with black stripes and find out there is a real answer. "They're skin is black, you can see it if they get banged up. With the two of them, however, I say Ziggy is white with black stripes because she has less black; her stripes are narrower, and I say Zelda is black with white because her stripes are bolder." Both zebras camouflage into the night. Beverly often goes out looking for them at night and becomes ready to give up the search when all of a sudden they'll be standing right next to her.
I ask the Worleys if there is a high incidence of "z" names in the domesticated zebra community. Indeed there are, with Zeus and Zulu being the John and Jane. Loren sees all the "z" names on a message board, where owners discuss all things zebra, like notifying the community about an equine insurance salesman in Texas .
One zebra-less woman posted a message on the board after playing Old McDonald with her son (apparently the Sub-Saharan version) and being stumped when she got to zebra. Do zebras make a noise, she wondered. Loren answered her query: "Think of it as similar to a bark but you inhale instead of exhaling while you make a sound as though you were trying to say 'what.' In other words, inhale while saying, 'Wha, Wha, Wha.'"
Speaking of noises, the smallest farm within Charlotte city limits is quite possibly the loudest. Due to the spacing out of her animals, Katherine Wisor's home and barn on North Tryon Street is like Old McDonald in surround sound.
A miniature horse named Cricket stands guard in front of Creeks End Farm, (Wisor's name for the animal sanctuary). Wisor rescued Cricket after he was found abandoned in Davidson. "I have everything but a cow and a pig," says Wisor. She's not sure exactly how many animals she has (somewhere around 80 to 100).
But one thing is certain -- her fowl are beautiful. (That's a sentence I never thought I'd write). She has four different breeds of a turkey: a Broad-Breasted Bronze who is on the endangered list, a Black Spanish/ Wild mix and her favorite, a Royal Palm, colored white and black like a zebra. Wisor also has several breeds of chickens, a peacock and her Yellow Golden and Red Golden pheasants have magnificent feathers that are truly golden. Her most unique animal is Jerry the Rhea, an Australian member of the ostrich family, who she bought from an Australian animal collector on Idlewild Road. (If you are playing Old McDonald, a Rhea sounds like an oboe, says Wisor).
As you can imagine, much of her disposable income goes to grub: $278 on feed for a month, $200 on hay, $60 for dog food and more for cat food.
When I'm in the pen, one of the white llamas cocks her head back and hocks a loogie on the only brown llama in the pen. At first I think I've just witnessed a llama hate crime. Wisor tells me that most likely the white llama, a female, was trying to keep the horny male llama away from her because she was already pregnant. Once, the brown llama tried to kill another male llama in the pen because he didn't want any sexual rivals competing for any of his five lady llamas.
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