There have been many hybrid animals bred over the years. A hybrid animal is produced when two species with similar genetics mate and produce a hybrid offspring. Some hybrids such as the liger have caused much controversy as they are the cross-bred product of a protected species. However, some hybrids such as the zebroid have been bred for good reason with the hybrid animals being stronger than their parents in some respects such as immunity to diseases.
Zebroid is the generic name for all zebra hybrids. There are distinctions made within this group, generally named using the portmanteau convention of the sire’s name being added to the dam’s name. Therefore, a zorse is the offspring of a male zebra and a female horse, whereas the rarer reverse pairing is known as a horbra or hebra.
Zebras and ponies have been bred to produce the zony, zebras and donkeys to produce zonkeys, and in some instances zebras with Shetlands to produce ‘Zetlands.’
Zebras and horses and donkeys were originally bred in Africa and England to try to produce a domesticated animal that could be used to work as horses and donkeys are but that had the zebra’s natural immunity to diseases such as that spread by the tse tse fly in Africa . These experiments were successful in producing both the zorse and the zonkey and continued to be popular until early in the 20th century, when the automobile replaced the need for working animals and the breeding of these hybrids was all but abandoned.
The early 1990s saw a revival of interest and attempts were made to try and breed the zebra with almost every breed of horse. A popular cross is with the American Paint horse, which produces a beautiful animal with a good working temperament.
An amazing example of the markings that can be achieved is Eclyse – her own name also a hybrid of her parents – born to a male zebra, Ulysses, and a female horse, Eclipse. Whereas most zorses have striped marks all over their bodies, Eclyse has just two patches, on her face and rear. The rest of her body is a beautiful pure white. Born in 2006 she remains a popular attraction at her home in a safari park at Schloss Holte Stukenbrock near the German border with Holland .
Credit: By Christine und David Schmitt (originally posted to Flickr as Zorse) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Zorses remain popular today with many breeders to be found producing many different colour variations. Many open horse shows now also hold zorse and zonkey classes. For more information go to the International Zebra-Zorse-Zonkey Association (IZZZA).
What began as experiments to fulfil a function needed many years ago has, over 100 years on, turned into the breeding of very beautiful animals and fulfils many people’s fantasies of owning and riding a zebra.