J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 8-6-12 | TheFencePost.com

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J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 8-6-12

When horse and donkey breeders want to add a few stripes to their program, they can avoid pulling rank on anyone by enlisting zebras. Which isn't as easy as it sounds.

Zebras are strong and willful, and when cross-bred with either horses or donkeys, the hybrids are more disease resistant than the pure bred, and more adaptable to extremes of heat and cold, which gives them the general constitution of excellent work animals. But zebras are also wild. The trick is to raise a wild zebra colt in captivity. It generally works best to use a zebra stallion in the mating regime to produce a zony, or zonies. Zebra hinneys are very rare.

A typical zony has stripes on the legs and face, and often a dorsal stripe accompanied by an upright mane and somewhat larger ears than a horse. A number of "golden zeboids" have been bred, the color resulting from the breeding of a zebra stallion to a chestnut mare, the dark stripes manifesting over the chestnut to produce a golden hue.

Female zonies are sometimes called zorses; males are usually referred to as zebrules. While these creatures are somewhat exotic, their existence is well documented, including a once-off mating of a zebra stallion and Shetland mare, producing a zetland zony.

Zeboids and zonies are generally sterile, but again, there are many documented cases of zeboids producing offspring, sometimes raising more fear than curiosity. In 1994, an Albanian zeboid gave birth to a female colt, striking fear in the community of the devil's hand at work.

e_SDLqIn Origin of the Species," (1859) Darwin wrote of zeboids, noting his observation of an extremely unusual case. Lord Morton famously bred a zebra stallion to a chestnut mare, the resulting zony showing even more pronounced striping of the legs than the zebra stallion. Then, most curiously, Lord Moreton asserted that the subsequent pure offspring from the mare involved in the zeboid hybrid also had pronounced leg stripes. That is, even when the mare was then bred to a black Arabian, the striping of the former mating with the zebra stallion persisted.

It was somewhat common in the late 1800s, before genetics was a fully flowered science, for animal breeders to subscribe to a theory of paternal impression, or Teleogeny. Generally Teleogeny states that if a female of a species mates with more than one male, the subsequent offspring can inherit characteristics from earlier sires. The word Teleogeny was first coined by Dr. Weismann in his book, "Das Keimplasma" (early 20th Century).

Cossar Ewart, a professor of Natural History in Ireland in the early 1900s undertook to prove Moreton wrong. A famous controversy ensued. Moreton showed his zeboids to the Royal Society, who verified his statement concerning the apparent "parental impression" of the zebra stallion on the Arabian mare's subsequent breeding. After decades of debate, and advances in genetics, Cossar Ewart was generally determined to have the correct theory: that parental impression, or Teleogeny is more accident and coincidence than actual persistence of the characteristics of a former sire.

Recent discoveries in epigenetics, however, suggest there may be something to Teleogeny after all. ❖