Rare Golden Zebra

That's a Zebra of a Different Color - Beige and White

Golden Zebra
Golden Zebra. Viral image via Facebook / Original photo by Bill Adams

Rare and unusual animals are a constant source of fascination. It's no surprise that a photo of a zebra with white and golden stripes could turn into a Facebook viral sensation. But hold your horses, is it real?

Description: Viral image
Circulating since: April 2013
Status: Real image, color-enhanced
Example caption:

As shared on Facebook, April 19, 2013:

Meet Zoe! Born in Hawaii, is one of very few 'Golden' Zebras known in existence. Beautiful right?

Analysis of the Golden Zebra Viral Photo

This is an actual photograph that has been digitally manipulated — by whom, we don't know — to exaggerate her unusual gold coloring. Zoe the zebra is real, but sans color enhancement, her stripes look more beige than golden, and her eyes, though bright blue, don't have the preternatural glow seen above (view original image here, and another here).

According to her caretakers at Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Hawaii, Zoe was born with a condition known as amelanosis, a melanin pigment deficiency, and is indeed extremely rare. They say it is not the same as being an albino. The animal sanctuary describes Zoe as either having beige stripes or golden stripes.

Zoe the Golden (or Beige) and White Zebra's Story

Zoe's mother, Oreo, was captured in South Africa. She was living on Molokai, Hawaii and was to be moved to the Three Ring Ranch on the big island of Hawaii when she gave birth to Zoe on September 16, 1968.

For the first 11 years of Zoe's life, she was the only golden zebra in captivity, although others had been reported at zoos in the past. Interestingly, there is now a herd of 24 golden zebras at a sanctuary in South Africa in the area where Oreo was captured, showing that it is likely to be an inherited condition.

The pigment deficiency is similar to  "Lethal White Foal Syndrome" in horses. Because that condition often has other serious birth defects, Zoe's health has been monitored. She is kept out of the sun and monitored for development of skin cancer. She is fed a low protein diet in case she develops kidney problems. Her one problem as of 2016 is poor night vision.

In the wild, a zebra with this coloration would stand out as the dark stripes aid in camouflage from predators. This would be a distinct disadvantage for survival and may be why they have been only rarely noted in the wild, if at all.

Oreo gave birth to Zoe's sister Tootsie in 2000. Tootsie had normal coloration and the two sisters got along very well. Unfortunately, Oreo died after a long zebra life, at age 28, but Tootsie died in 2015. That leaves Zoe the only zebra and her keepers are concerned that she is alone, as zebras are herd animals.

The sanctuary is a nonprofit organization and USDA licensed. They will not breed Zoe as her species is not rare or endangered and they breed only endangered animals when requested by state or federal programs. The sanctuary is not open to the public, so you can't drop in to visit Zoe. They want to keep the lives of the animals as stress-free as possible.

More Fake or Mislabeled Critters of a Different Color

If your friends have been sharing a golden zebra, they're liable to share these also fake or mislabeled photos: