SALT LAKE CITY — Mindy Dillard was comparing her human baby to the new zebra baby at Utah's Hogle Zoo.
"It's really amazing to see a baby less than a week old up and walking around," Dillard said. Her 10-month-old, Cyrus, who doesn't yet walk on his own, was pointing and babbling at the mom and baby zebra in the zoo's African Savanna enclosure on Thursday.
"He loves animals," she said. "It's really fun to see him develop that."
The 5-day-old, 74-pound zebra, who has yet to be named, arrived at 2 a.m. on Saturday, and zookeepers say she appeared excited and ready to come into the world. It all happened in less than an hour, with baby practically climbing out when mom, Ziva, took a break from pushing.
"It's very exciting. We waited almost 13 months for this mare to give birth," said Isaura Carballo, primary keeper at the savanna exhibit. She said Ziva is a first-time mom who was bred with Hogle's male zebra, Ziggy, more than a year ago for a springtime arrival.
"This baby has her mom's personality," Carballo said. "Her mom is very outgoing and people-oriented, and it appears she is going to be the same way."
Thursday was the first time the baby girl was exposed to the public, and she seemed unfazed by all the attention. She carried on as expected, exploring a protected portion of her new 4.5-acre African plains-like home, bouncing and running around in circles with excitement.
Ziva, however, kept to eating hay, except when a couple of the cohabitating guinea fowl would get too close to her baby, she'd chase them away.
"She's doing a good job of protecting her foal," Carballo said.
Just as in the wild, the keeper said mom and baby will stay together and away from the herd to bond and give baby time to memorize mom's stripes to differentiate from the other zebras.
"It's like human fingerprints, no two zebras have the same pattern," Carballo said.
Elsewhere at the zoo, a mother sand cat was nurturing her two babies, who were born five weeks ago. They climbed about their enclosure under their mother's watchful eye. The black-footed cats also have new youth, born three weeks ago and not yet introduced to the public, and a female Pallas' cat is due any day now.
"I tell people when they come to the zoo, to slow down because you might miss something," said Hogle Zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen. "These animals have their own natural camouflage and if you pass by too quickly, you'll miss what's going on."
Typically, the zoo doesn't have a "baby season," she said, so it's pretty "fun to have a variety" of new babies at the same time. She said the zoo gives them the best care possible.
"Wild animals are different than barnyard animals in how they produce," Hansen said, adding that baby animals generate attention and help to educate the public about wild animals and their habitats.
The new babies caused quite a stir, with a lot of "oohs" and "aahs" from zoo visitors.
"She's so cute," Haley Gray said of the toddling zebra. Haley ran to the exhibit and was the first member of the public to see her Thursday. "She's so tiny and cute … it's one of my new favorite animals."
Diedre Gray said the family loves to visit the zoo to help their kids develop an appreciation for all animals. It was surprising, she said, to see the zebra out and about.
"I thought they'd still have the baby hidden," Gray said. "It's really neat that they will let people see it this tiny."
The foal, whose birth was directed by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan, definitely drew a crowd. Carballo said the zoo willingly helps to propagate its more than 800 species, specifically those that are at risk of extinction like this breed, which is a Hartmann's mountain zebra, native to southwestern Africa.
The zoo animals, however, will never be released into the wild but "serve as ambassadors to their wild counterparts," said zookeeper Holly Peterson. The animals are transferred between zoos to maintain genetic diversity and sustain the number of animals in captivity without the need to take from a wild herd.
The new baby zebra is the second of the species to be born at Hogle Zoo, as Poppy was born to Zoey last year. Both girls are fathered by Ziggy.Comment on this story
Hartmann's mountain zebras are different than other zebras, including their pointed, hardened hooves that make it easier to climb and their characteristic brown and white stripes that are thicker and don't meet under the all-white belly. The endangered species also has a unique skin fold under the neck.
"It's really neat," said Matt Wilson, a zoo visitor. "I've never seen a baby zebra before, even on TV."
Zoo officials have yet to decide how or what the baby zebra will be called, as naming rights are sometimes given to generous donors, specific zookeepers or to the community.