One of Maryland’s escaped zebras dies in illegal trap

·2 min read

One of a group of escaped zebras that have spent almost two months running wild through the east Maryland suburbs has died, authorities said, in a blow to thousands who have followed the animals’ bid for freedom.

The fate of the zebras, who bolted from a farm near Upper Marlboro in late August, has captured the attention of people locally and beyond, with a number of Marylanders sharing videos and photos of the animals roaming and grazing on residents’ lawns.

Related: Stripe zone: on the trail of suburban Maryland’s elusive zebras

Now, however, has come the news no one wanted to hear: one of the zebras has died, after being caught in a snare trap. The animal was found dead on 16 September, Prince George’s county officials said, but for unknown reasons the zebra’s fate was only made public nearly a month later.

The remaining zebras have managed to avoid the bungling efforts of the local animal services division for almost two months.

Officials claimed in early September that the animals would be caught within a matter of days, and in a further misstep, animal services later revealed it had managed to miscount the number of zebras they were hunting – after originally stating that five were on the loose, the division now says only three escaped.

The local television channel Fox5 reported that Maryland’s department of natural resources police found one of the zebras dead in a trap in mid-September, but did not report this to Prince George’s county officials until 28 September. It took another two weeks for Prince George’s county to reveal that the animal was dead.

Snare traps are illegal in Prince George’s county, and police are investigating who laid the trap.

Prince George’s county workers have spent several weeks attempting to lure the escaped zebras into a corral. Last Friday the county’s department of the environment unveiled a new strategy, which involves using more captive zebras as bait for their free brethren.

“The current capture plan is to utilize food and other zebras to attract the zebras at large into a corral so they can be returned to the herd and eliminate any other potential risk to the animals,” Prince George’s county DoE said in a press release.

With winter approaching, some have expressed concern over the zebras’ ability to deal with the Maryland temperatures, which can drop below freezing.

Daniel Rubenstein, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, previously told the Guardian that zebras thrive on the frigid slopes of Mount Kenya, so they should be just fine.

If the cold does prove too much, the zebras could choose to migrate south toward warmer climes, Rubenstein said – unless they are finally caught.