The zebra’s eye-catching coat has long made the exotic horse a favorite of photographers and merry-go-round makers. But that animal is also becoming a favorite of some ranchers — and even horseback riders looking for a sportier mount.
Audren Garrett, of Garrett’s Exotic Animal Ranch near Springfield, Missouri, is just one U.S. rancher who raises zebras. He has about 60 Grant’s zebras, a variety of Plains zebra, on his 300-acre spread.
Garrett’s herd, which he started in the early 1970s, often causes motorists on a nearby highway “to stop out front and take pictures,” he says. But despite their noteworthy looks, he says raising zebras is little different from breeding horses. “They are very easy to raise; I don’t see anything hard about it,” he says. In winter, the zebras eat hay and even take shelter in a barn, just like horses. Some of his customers even ride the animals. “They treat them just like horses,” he says, putting a regular saddle on their backs.
Other breeders raise zebras for different reasons. Some breed endangered Grevy’s zebras for zoos, or raise and train animals for circuses. A few experiment with crossbreeding zebras with other animals, in search of sturdy, good-looking livestock that might appeal to buyers. The “Zebdonk,” for instance, is a cross between a Burchell’s zebra and a donkey.
For the moment, however, Garrett isn’t planning any such experiments with his herd. It will continue to surprise drivers as they roll through the green Missouri hills, who may wonder whether they somehow took a wrong exit marked “Africa.”