Runaways in Stripes: Five Zebras Are on the Loose in Maryland

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The zebras, which have been wandering freely along the byways of Prince George’s County, were part of a herd of 39 that belonged to a privately owned farm, officials said.

Zebras similar to these escaped from a farm in Maryland last week.
Credit...Daniel Irungu/EPA, via Shutterstock

Sept. 9, 2021, 9:24 p.m. ET

Alexis Curling was working from home last week when her 10-year-old daughter, Layla, ran upstairs and interrupted her with breaking news.

“Mommy, I know you’re not going to believe this, but trust me when I tell you: I just saw some zebras behind the house,” she said, according to her father, Paul Curling.

The family is used to seeing deer nosing along the wooded railroad tracks behind their home in suburban Maryland. But zebras?

“Layla, what’s the matter with you? Are you crazy?” Ms. Curling responded. “Why would there be zebras?”

But there were zebras — five, in fact, that had recently escaped from a nearby farm and had been roaming freely through the backyards and roads of Prince George’s County, just as they would in the grasslands of eastern Africa.

“When I first heard about it I was like, ‘OK, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Zebras?’” said Rodney Taylor, chief of the Prince George’s County Animal Services Division. Over 39 years in animal control, he has had to corral the occasional cow or other farm animal. But never a zebra.

“Most times, we’re dealing with a dog and cat more than anything else,” he said.

The wandering zebras first came to the attention of the authorities on Aug. 31 after they escaped from a privately owned farm in Upper Marlboro, Md., about 20 miles southeast of Washington, Mr. Taylor said.

He said that he did not know how the zebras got loose, but that they were part of a zeal of 39 (yes, that’s what a bunch of zebras are sometimes called) that had been brought to the farm from Florida about two weeks ago.

He said he was not sure why the farm owner, whom he identified as Jerry Holly, had been keeping zebras in Maryland, but they were not part of a zoo or other exposition.

“He just has them,” Mr. Taylor said, adding that he had spoken only to a worker on the farm, and not to Mr. Holly. “He may sell them. I have no idea.”

He said that Mr. Holly had a license from the United States Department of Agriculture to keep zebras. The U.S.D.A. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Department records indicate that the farm has had a range of wild animals as recently as 2018, including black-handed spider monkeys, dromedaries, mandrills, red kangaroos, brown lemurs, capybaras and gibbons.

But Mr. Curling, who lives about three miles away, said, “Nobody knew about it.”

Mr. Holly could not be reached at several numbers listed under his name. The escaped zebras were previously reported by WJLA.

After breaking loose, the zebras began grazing along the byways of Upper Marlboro, eventually crossing behind the Curlings’s backyard last Thursday, where Layla saw them through the kitchen window as she fixed herself a noontime snack of Oreo cookies, her father said.

Her sister, Alexa Curling, 22, quickly took a video and then called Mr. Curling to tell him that there were zebras behind the house.

“I’m like, ‘OK, my family has finally lost it,’” he said. “Maybe they are playing a prank on me and want me to come home early.”

Even after seeing the video, he wondered if someone had dressed up horses to look like zebras for a child’s birthday party, much the way someone might put a horn on a horse to make it look like a unicorn.

His wife called 311 to report the family’s discovery.

“Ma’am, I know you’re not going to believe me, but there’s some zebras in my backyard,” Mr. Curling recalled her saying. The call taker “gave a long pause,” he said, and then referred her to the Animal Services Division.

Mr. Taylor said that Mr. Holly’s farm planned to trap the zebras in a feeding station, where they have been captured on video camera over the past four nights, nibbling on grain.

Farm workers have been slowly adding paneling around the station, creating an enclosure that will eventually include a gate with a tripwire, he said.

The process has been slow because the zebras might be scared to enter the feeding station if they notice the shape of the enclosure has changed, Mr. Taylor said. Once the zebras are trapped, they will be tranquilized and returned to the farm.

“I’m thinking by this time next week,” he said, “they should have some zebras caught.”

He emphasized that the authorities were not trying to hunt down the zebras, which have keen senses and are easily startled.

“It would just make matters worse,” he said. “They’re not going to let you get that close to them.”

Susan Beachy contributed research.

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