Egyptian Zoo Denies They Painted Stripes on a Donkey for Their “Zebra” Display

A photograph of an alleged zebra has gone viral, inviting global skepticism about the creature’s true origins.

Published July 26, 2018

In July 2018, a student named Mahmoud Sarhan posted a photograph to social media of what was described as a zebra on display at Egypt’s International Garden municipal park. The photograph soon went viral, and the reason for its virality stemmed from the seemingly self-evident fact that it did not in fact picture a zebra, but instead a donkey painted to look like a zebra:

The BBC noted this animal’s curiously “small size and pointy ears” as well as the “black smudges on its face.” Egyptian local media outlet posted several other pictures of the alleged zebras, and provided commentary from a vet who (as reported by the BBC) remarked that unlike the animal seen in the picture, “a zebra's snout is black, while its stripes are more consistent and parallel.”

While different zebra species exhibit significant variability in size, stripe patterns, and snout colorings, their stripes typically do not smudge. A comparison using pictures of three zebra species next to one of an African donkey suggests the allegation of a faked zebra is plausible:

Mohamed Sultan, a Cairo official in charge of the park, denied to local radio station Nogoum FM that the zebra was a fake. We note with some amusement, however, that a conveniently placed Google street view from 2017 exists of the exact location from which Sarhan posted the now-viral picture. In that October 2017 image, a similar looking equine was housed in the spot, but it appeared to lack those oddly smudged stripes:

Sources   "بالصور| القصة الكاملة للحمار الوحشي "المزيف" بالحديقة الدولية”     23 July 2018.

BBC News.   “Egypt Zoo Accused of Painting Donkey to Look Like a Zebra.”     26 July 2018.

Melin, Amanda D.   "Zebra Stripes Through the Eyes of Their Predators, Zebras, and Humans.”     Plos One.   22 January 2016.   “شاهد.. محافظة القاهرة توضح حقيقة “تزوير” الحمار الوحشي في الحديقة الدولية”     23 July 2018.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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