Two weeks until Christmas, and already there are reports of tiny hoofprints in upper Montgomery County.

They first surfaced last weekend. A party of hunters was taking a lunch break around their pickup truck when, what to their wondering eyes did appear but an African zebra, instead of a deer.

Monday, coal yard workers at Potomac Electric Power Co.'s Dickerson plant spotted the zebra, limping through the woods near Poolesville. It looked like a horse, but its coat was so toney, they knew in a flash it was no polo pony.

The zebra, worth about $7,000, broke through a fence Dec. 1 at Hollywood Farms in Potomac, leaving her mate behind and apparently cutting her leg.

Pepco workers have been keeping watch with a tranquilizer gun in the hopes of bringing her in before the frost gets her.

"We didn't know anything about it," said an officer at the Germantown police station, "until [farm owner] Wally Holly called and said if anyone saw her, would they please return same."

Trackers, Kay Holly said, should handle this creature with care and wait until the real zebra experts get there. "Think of it as a wild horse," said Holly.

"We pretty much know where she is now," said a worker at Hollywood Farms, "but every time we go [where she's spotted], she's gone. I just hope we get her back okay."

Pepco hopes so, too. As spokesman Nancy Moses said, "We don't do zebras."

Hollywood Farms, incidentally, is also the home where the buffalo roam.

Last December, one of the buffalo escaped, but despite help from the police, it was never recovered.