The owners of Tilly the Shetland pony received a double shock when she gave birth. They didn't know she was pregnant — and they certainly weren't expecting a zebra.
Tilly's owners at Eden Ostrich World, a modest visitor attraction on a farm near Penrith in northwestern England, had been unaware of the pony's exotic past life at a wildlife park, where she shared a field with a male zebra.
"She was fairly fat when we received her and we thought that she was getting fatter," Ostrich World manager Karen Peet said today.
"It really was a bit of a shock when we got up one morning and we saw the foal that was there."
The striped half-Shetland, half-zebra foal — dubbed a "zetland" or a "shebra" but as yet unnamed — has flourished since her birth a week ago, and Peet said visitors would be able to view her beginning Monday.
The farm plans to hold a competition to name the creature, which has black-and-tan stripes and a zebra's distinctive large head.
Veterinarians say such a foal is rare, but not unknown. British zoos have reported the birth of several "zeedonks" — offspring of a zebra and a donkey — over the years.
"Ponies and zebras very rarely share the same environment even in the wild. A meeting between the two is very rare in the natural environment," said Lesley Barwise-Munro, spokeswoman for the British Equine Veterinary Association.
"If the zebra is the father and the horse is the mother there is no reason why a normal fertilization and a pregnancy should not take place," she added. "But the offspring is unlikely to be fertile."