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The “Black-Faced” Zebra

We have been noticing something interesting going on with a few of the herds of Zebra on Welgevonden game reserve. When we pull up to view these black & white grazers and look closely at their face, we see that it looks like they are losing some of their white hairs. This appearance is due to a contagious skin disease caused by mites and known as mange. We believe the culprit is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, and the specific condition is known as Sarcoptic mange.

The Sarcoptes scabiei mite

These mites will burrow into the outer layer of the Zebra’s skin and form tunnels. From there, the female mites will lay their eggs within the tunnels and within a matter of days the larvae will hatch and move in the tunnels or move into the surface of the infected animals’ skin. This condition is spread amongst animals when they come into direct contact with one another. So, it makes a lot of sense that the mange is most prominent in the foal of the Zebra, as they spend most of their day in direct contact with their mother to learn movements from her, keep up with the herd, and avoid predators.

Unfortunately, as conservationists there is not a whole lot we can do to help the Zebra with this condition. It is possible to administer a medication that could kill the mites, but that would require darting all of the effected animals (a costly procedure) and then hoping that we were able to treat every single one of the Zebra carrying this mite, so it doesn’t occur and spread again.

Zebra: black with white stripes!

In this case, we unfortunately have to let nature run its course. One interesting factor however, is in observing the Zebra with mange, we can also further prove that these Zebra are in fact black with white stripes! Since the mite is eating away the fur, all that’s left for us to see is the underlying black skin of the Zebra. As we continue to go on drive into the reserve, we will continue to monitor these animals and see if hopefully the condition will clear up on its own.

Written by Erik / Jan / Kelvin
Photo credits:  @jan__wilke