One of the zebras that escaped from a Maryland farm in late August was found dead Sept. 16 in an illegal snare trap, officials said Thursday.
Lauren Moses, a spokesperson for the state’s Natural Resources Police, said snare traps, which are illegal in Maryland, are typically used to hunt smaller animals, and it is not clear who set it. The zebra was found on private property.
“We think it was roaming and got caught in the snare,” Moses said.
Officials in Prince George’s County publicly disclosed the death of the zebra on Thursday, after they had been saying for weeks that they were close to capturing the zebras in a safe manner.
Originally, officials from the Prince George’s County animal services unit had said five zebras escaped from a farm, but that was incorrect, said Linda Lowe, a spokesperson for the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment. Only three broke free, she said, and now just two remain loose.
The Natural Resources Police, who enforce fish and wildlife laws regulated by the state Department of Natural Resources, said officers responded on Sept. 16 to a private property in Upper Marlboro about a dead animal on Sept. 16. They found one of the escaped zebras in a snare trap near a field.
Natural Resources Police investigators are looking into the case with the county’s animal services division.
County animal services officials initially said in late August that three zebras had escaped, then about a week later updated the total number to five. Officials said the zebras were traveling in a pack of three and a pack of two.
It was not clear how officials discovered that just three, not five, of the animals had escaped the herd. Lowe did not immediately respond to further inquiries from The Washington Post.
The zebra saga started when they escaped Aug. 31 from an 80-acre farm off Duley Station Road in Upper Marlboro. They are part of a herd of about 30 zebras on the farm, according to Chief Rodney Taylor, who is head of the Prince George’s County animal services division.
The farm is owned by Jerry Holly, who has not responded to many requests for comment in the weeks since the zebras escaped and did not respond to a request Thursday evening.
Taylor has said private ownership of zebras is allowed in the state and the county under permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said Holly has an up-to-date USDA permit for his animals.
A spokesman for the USDA previously said the agency plans to look into the case of the escaped zebras. Officials from the agency did not respond to questions late Thursday.
“Any further review and action taken by Prince George’s County, including any appropriate charges against the owner, will be evaluated once the zebras return to the herd,” Lowe said in a statement from the county.
The Prince George’s community has been abuzz about the zebras, with parents packing their children into cars to try to spot the striped creatures and a TV reporter donning safari gear. Someone created a Twitter account meant to impersonate the zebras.
Many of the zebra sightings have occurred in neighborhoods near Duley Station Road or adjacent Croom Road. At Holly’s farm, past fences with “Private Property” signs, lies a yellow house, a white barn and vast fields.
In the most distant pasture from the entrance of the farm, a reporter with binoculars observed three corralled zebras grazing Tuesday evening.
The caretakers have been placing feed and hay in an area near the farm to try to lure the zebras and corral them. They’ve spotted them on wildlife cameras, grazing and feeding in the early morning hours. The county’s animal services chief has repeatedly said they’re close to capturing them — but warned it will take time.
The county said in its statement Thursday that the zebra caretakers are feeding two of the herd’s animals in a corral to “help draw the loose zebras back into the herd and eliminate any other potential risk.”
Catching them has been hard in part because they’re smart, experts said. Also, because of their fight-or-flight response, if cornered, they’ll try to flee, bite or kick, according to experts.
Zebras are also fearful and skittish, so those loose in Prince George’s are likely to have been steering clear of loud noises, highways and humans, experts said. Officials have warned the public to stay away from the escaped zebras.
Some observers have suggested that officials hire sharpshooters to tranquilize them with darts, but animal experts said that’s not the safest idea. Zebras get a “huge adrenaline rush” when they’re hit with the dart of a tranquilizer, and it can take as long as 15 minutes for them to become immobilized, according to Vanessa Roer, chief executive of Roer’s Zoofari, a private zoo in Reston, Virginia.
As they’re going down, they could take off running toward a human, building or road. Getting the weight-based dosage right for a zebra that officials haven’t examined up close would be difficult. On average, a typical adult zebra can weigh around 700 pounds, experts said.
“What you use for a horse or a cow isn’t going to work for a zebra,” Roer said. “You might have them down in 15 minutes, but if something startles them, it can get dicey and take longer.”