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How do you tell the animals apart?

One of the most common questions we get about the animals is how to tell them apart. Many guests feel like they’re seeing double when they look at the zebras and have a hard time differentiating between the two younger giraffes. At first glance, these animals do look very similar! However, zebras’ stripes and giraffes’ spots are as unique as a fingerprint. No two animals are exactly alike.

When looking at the giraffes, Abu is an easy place to start. As male giraffes age, their coats get darker over time. They also get more and more calcium deposits on their faces and ossicones. Knowing this, it’s easy to guess that our oldest, Abu, is the largest, darkest and has the “knobbiest face” of all the giraffes. These characteristics make him very easy to distinguish from the two younger males. The younger giraffes are similar in color, so it’s easiest to look at their tails, chests and general size to help ID them. Isooba is the smallest giraffe and has the shortest tail hair. If you look at his chest, his spot pattern makes a very precious little hoof print right in the middle. Etana is larger than Isooba and has longer tail hair. He often likes to people watch, so you may get the chance to see him up close. If you do, you’ll also notice that he has some white “freckles” in his spots on his chest and is starting to develop calcium deposits on his face and ossicones.

We also have two female plains zebras. They can be tricky to tell apart (especially if they aren’t standing right next to each other). Side-by-side, it’s easy to see that Shinda has a darker nose. Hannah’s nose looks light brown in comparison. Shinda also tends to be a bit chubbier than Hannah. When not near each other, you can use defining characteristics on both zebras’ hindquarters to help ID them. Hannah has a spot just to the right of the top of her tail. Shinda lacks this spot but has a cool effect on her white stripes that we call “ghost stripes.” These are faint black stripes within the white sections that almost look like someone tried to erase them. Another cool feature that we use for ID is a small, white marking that looks like a Mitsubishi logo on Hannah’s left shoulder. It’s always interesting to hear from other team members to see how they distinguish between the two. After working with this animal population for four years, I see new spots/stripes/patterns every day that I’ve never noticed before.

Next time you’re at the Zoo, see if you can identify individuals!  
Bridget S.
Keeper III, Mammals

(photo by Bridget S.)

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