Earning Your Stripes: OKC Zoo Caretakers Train Zuberi the Zebra

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is home to four-year-old Grevy’s zebra, Zuberi. This International Zebra Day, January 31, the OKC Zoo is celebrating with a special Zuberi update, courtesy of his primary animal caretaker – Kendra Hard. But first – let’s talk about the Grevy’s zebra!

Zuberi credit Chris McGovern

Native primarily to Ethiopia and Kenya, Grevy’s zebras are the largest and most endangered of the three species of zebra. Grevy’s are classified as an endangered species, with an estimated 2,000 individuals left in the wild. The biggest threats to the species are habitat loss, disease and predation. Grevy’s zebras have undergone one of the most substantial reductions of range of any African mammal, as they struggle to compete for resources with other grazers, as well as cattle and livestock. Due to habitat restoration efforts and zebra scouts/warriors helping to gather essential information to change community attitudes, their population has remained steady. The OKC Zoo works to conserve zebra in the wild through its Round Up for Conservation program, raising critical funds and supporting conservation organizations in Africa such as the Northern Rangelands Trust, and assisting with the Grevy’s Zebra Trust census in Kenya.

Zuberi the Grevy's Zebra

Zuberi, Swahilian for ‘strong’, is an exceptional ambassador for his wild counterparts. He is full of personality, enjoying regular interactions with his animal care team during training sessions. However, because zebras are an instinctually skittish species, Zuberi’s strong relationship with his caretakers took time and patience to develop. We first had to earn his trust. As Zuberi’s primary caretaker, I was tasked with training him to touch a target and step on a scale - among other husbandry behaviors. By learning these behaviors, he could begin to actively participate in his own healthcare.

Zuberi 2 credit Chris McGovern

When we first started working together during training sessions, Zuberi maintained a 10 to 15-feet distance at all times from his habitat fence while I remained stationed on the other side. Despite the distance, however, Zuberi was still engaged – accepting reinforcements for his participation, such as carrots and apples. As the weeks went by, Zuberi continued to inch closer and closer. Then, one unforgettable day, five months into training, he walked right up to the fencing of his habitat. And, four months after that milestone, he began eating carrots and apples out of my hand!

Zuberi and Kendra Hard

With time, patience and trust, Zuberi has become so comfortable with his caretakers that he now requests bottom and neck scratches every day - multiple times a day. Because of the bond we’ve built with him, he also enjoys running up and down the fence line with us. Most recently, Zuberi voluntarily walked onto a scale for the first time, an exciting accomplishment for the hoofstock team and for him. He weighed in at 827 pounds! As we continue to interact with Zuberi through training sessions, we are able to elevate his welfare even further. By continuing to build upon the bond we have with him, we can work toward a variety of husbandry behaviors, such as voluntary blood draws, hoof trims and more. 

Be sure to ‘hoof’ it the Zoo this International Zebra Day to say hello to Zuberi!

-Kendra Hard, hoofstock caretaker

Photo credit: Chris McGovern

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