More comfortable with rounding up lost dogs and rescuing kittens from trees, a team of animal control officers in Maryland’s second-most-populous county is wrestling with an unprecedented challenge: how to catch a dazzle of free-roaming zebras.
Five of the animals broke free from a private farm in Prince George county more than a week ago and have been roaming neighbourhoods south of Upper Marlboro in a search of food.
While the wandering beasts have entertained residents and sparked an impromptu metropolitan safari of social media pictures and videos, their presence has caused a headache for county officials.
“You can’t hunt them down. They’re just too fast, they run, they won’t let you get near them,” Rodney Taylor, chief of Prince George county’s animal services department, told the ABC affiliate WJLA news.
“We do have a feeding station set up, and we’re winning their confidence. They are eating there every morning between 2am and 4am.”
Taylor told the station that authorities planned to box in the zebras by erecting panels around the feeding station, where they can be tranquilised and returned to the farm. But, he said, corralling the unpredictable creatures was a delicate operation.
“If you spook them, you’re just pushing them further out. And that’s when it can get dangerous, they can get out on the highway. Things can happen,” he added.
The zebras, part of a larger herd of 39 that reportedly arrived from Florida at the private farm in Upper Marlboro last month, broke free from their enclosure just over a week ago.
The farm’s owner, identified by Taylor as Jerry Holly, has not responded to media requests for comment, but is licensed to keep exotic animals, according to US Department of Agriculture records.
According to WJLA, the farm also had black-handed spider monkeys, dromedaries, mandrills, red kangaroos, brown lemurs, capybaras and gibbons as recently as 2018.
Residents who have spotted the zebras have been reporting their location to animal services, Taylor said.
Alexa Curling, who lives in the Marlton neighbourhood, recorded a video clip of the animals wandering near her house. Her sister Layla, 10, told WJLA she spotted them from an upstairs window and called out to her mother, who did not believe her.
“I thought it was a deer for about three seconds, and then I noticed it was actually a zebra. She said I was crazy and stuff. She believed me after we looked out the bathroom window,” she said.
Taylor said of the creatures: “They won’t attack you [but] please do not try to corner them or try to catch them. They’re not used to being handled by humans, so they will kick. Zebras do bite.”