Making Moves With Yipes, Our Zebra Colt

This update was written by Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute ungulate keeper Tara Buk.
April 30, 2021

Spring’s arrival brought about some big changes in the life of our 9-month-old Hartmann’s mountain zebra colt, Yipes. Over the past few months, we have seen our curious and brave young zebra become more inquisitive and confident every day. It has been such a joy to watch him grow from the playful colt who stuck like glue by his mother Mackenzie’s side to the social and adventurous explorer he is today.

Another recent development is that Yipes got new digs! Now that he is fully weaned from his mother, we gave him access to a pasture that is all his own. He spends his days running around and taking in the new sights and smells—there is a lot of novel stimuli for him to explore!

Hartmann's mountain zebra Yipes runs in a pasture filled with tall trees.

From this area, he is able to see the road that keepers take to get to the main campus, and he seems to be interested in watching the cars and trucks go by. His pasture is also adjacent to that of our young male Przewalski’s horse, Zigmund (whom keepers affectionally call “Ziggy”). The two of them get along well, and they often spend time together at the fence.

For many of the animals we care for, spring sparks the beginning of breeding season. This was also a factor in Yipes’ recent move, as we are in the midst of breeding his father, Rogan, with Mackenzie and her herd mate, Xolani. Both females received recommendations to breed with Rogan from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan. The SSP scientists determine which animals to breed by considering their genetics, temperament, personalities and health, among other factors.

Prior to their separation, Yipes and Xolani spent a lot of time together, and her calm demeanor seemed to influence our young zebra. She helped desensitize him to the barn’s chute system, which made loading him onto the trailer for the move to his new habitat a very smooth process.

Hartmann's mountain zebra Yipes stands atop a scale in the barn.

In my last update in February, I mentioned that we had just started training Yipes to voluntarily participate in his own healthcare. Now, he has mastered his first behavior and will “station” (stand still) upon a scale. In January, Yipes weighed-in at around 352 pounds (160 kilograms). When we weighed him April 26, he tipped the scales at 396 pounds (180 kilograms)—a good, healthy gain of 44 pounds.

As a reward for his participation, he receives a ration of his daily pellets and a few cinnamon biscuits, which he enthusiastically eats. Adult male Hartmann’s mountain zebras weigh about 750 pounds, so he still has some growing to do.

Hartmann's mountain zebra Yipes cautiously approaches some bamboo, which keepers gave him for enrichment.

We are working toward expanding Yipes’ palate and offered him a few stalks of bamboo for enrichment April 27. Although he was a bit apprehensive, Yipes was also curious and approached it to investigate. Time will tell if he shows any interest in nibbling the leaves. Meantime, we continue to encourage him to explore his new pasture. Before we know it, summer will be here, and Yipes will be celebrating his first birthday July 2!

This story was featured in the May 2021 issue of National Zoo News. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is temporarily closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and will reopen May 21, 2021.Our whole team works diligently to care for our animals and keep you connected to the Zoo. With your support, our conservation mission continues. If you can, please join us in this important work by making a donation today. On behalf of the animals we care for and work to protect: thank you.