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Zebras in Maryland caught after months on the run, officials say

Escaped zebras graze near a backyard in Upper Marlboro, Md., in this image from video recorded by a homeowner. (Courtesy of Paul Curling family)
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After four months on the run in the Maryland suburbs, two zebras that escaped from an exotic animal farm have been caught.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment confirmed that the zebras have been captured, but they could not provide details on when the recovery took place.

Neither the USDA nor Prince George’s County Animal Services were involved in the capture. They said they were notified Monday that the zebras had been recovered and returned to their herd last week. Prince George’s County officials said they had spent weeks working with the zebra caretakers trying to lure the escaped zebras into a corral using food and other zebras from the herd.

The pair were part of a trio that got away in late August from a large farm owned by Jerry Holly in Upper Marlboro off Duley Station Road, authorities said. One of the zebras died soon after their escape when it got caught in an illegal snare trap on a neighboring property. Officials have said at least 30 zebras live in a herd on Holly’s farm.

Before the story turned grim, the saga of Maryland’s roaming zebras captured the attention and appreciation of residents in the region looking for levity amid the tribulations of the ongoing pandemic. But then news broke that one of the escaped zebras had died, and in mid-October, the county announced that a second zebra from Holly’s herd had been found dead on the farm.

Video shows a zebra walking outside the home of the Curling family in Upper Marlboro, Md. on Sept. 2. (Video: Video courtesy Paul Curling)

Soon after, the Animal Services Division in Prince George’s County filed criminal animal cruelty charges against Holly. Several attempts to reach Holly over the months since the zebras’ escape have been unsuccessful. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Steven B. Vinick, a lawyer for Holly, said in an email Tuesday that the two captured zebras are doing well. “Like the other zebras, they are healthy, well-fed and cared for,” he said. Vinick also said Holly “has been and is a respected businessman in Prince George’s County, and he looks forward to being able to show in court that there is no merit whatsoever to any of the charges pending against him.”

County, state and federal officials investigating the zebras’ deaths, Holly’s herd and the escape of the zebras have released few details about how the animals escaped or what exactly was being done to capture them. Officials have said for months they were working with Holly and the animals’ caretakers who work for him.

Escaped zebras’ owner charged with animal cruelty in Maryland

Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a recent report that the three zebras escaped on Aug. 22 when they were being brought to Holly’s Maryland farm “during the unloading process.”

About a month later, Holly was told by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources that one of the escaped zebras was found with a “leg in a snare trap” and was dead near a fence just outside of the property, on a parcel of uninhabited land owned by the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts said in a statement that the snare trap, which is illegal in Maryland, was placed by an “unauthorized trespasser” on their property.

The inspectors also said that the zebras were “not handled in a manner that demonstrated the licensee and staff were knowledgeable of the handling of zebras,” resulting in one of them getting killed.

On the trail of Maryland's fugitive zebras

A second dead zebra was discovered on Holly’s property in an enclosure with other members of the herd. Officials said that zebra had been dead long enough that it had entered the “rigor-mortis stage,” according to court papers. On Oct. 19, Holly was charged with three counts of animal cruelty and accused of failing to provide food and shelter and inflicting “unnecessary suffering or pain on a zebra.”

County officials had assured the public for weeks that they were trying to safely lure the animals with food to an area and then gradually put up a fence to enclose them and get them back to their farm. The caretaker for the Girl Scouts’ property, Theodore McKenzie, had also been feeding the zebras, but he said the county asked him to stop so they could take over the rescue efforts.

“I’m very relieved that they’re safe and they were captured and they’re no longer running free,” said McKenzie, who had feared the zebras would be hit by a car.

Post Reports podcast: The Zebra Files

For the four months of their escape, the zebras have been a conversation piece for neighbors — some of whom spotted them grazing just off their suburban backyards — and fans on social media, who were rooting for the zebras’ freedom. Zebra-glimpsing hopefuls went on “safaris” down Croom Road, the location of several sightings, and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) issued a cheeky statement about their plight. But the enchantment quickly faded after the two zebras died and Holly was criminally charged.

On Twitter this week, an account called @MarylandZebra that had started as a parody on the zebras’ saga said: “Well, Well, Well...they got us. We had an amazing time and it’s all about being outside.”

Holly also maintains a farm in Florida, and the two properties have hosted exotic animals, including camels, kangaroos, giraffes, bison and several types of monkeys and lemurs. He has been cited for multiple animal welfare violations that include inadequate veterinary care, unsafe enclosures and dirty conditions, according to USDA inspection records.

In 2016, Holly was charged in Marion County, Fla., with possession of captive wild animals without a permit. He was found guilty and paid about $280 in court costs, according to online court records. In 2013, Holly paid roughly $12,000 in fines for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which is used to monitor the treatment and condition of animals.

Richard Bell, a spokesman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which oversees animal licenses, said Holly does “have the appropriate license for the zebras.”