By Charlotte Orie
An orphaned baby zebra has found happiness once again thanks to his keepers who wear a black and white stripy coat and take it in turns to become his ‘surrogate mum’.
Little Diria had a traumatic start in life after his mum was killed by a pride of lions at Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.
Miraculously the youngster escaped the attack by hiding with a nearby herd of goats.
He was initially cared for by herdsman, before being brought to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Voi Reintegration Unit.
In the wild zebra calves are raised by their mum alone and the pair usually form a very strong bond.
As this isn’t possible at unit, caring keepers wear a specially made black and white striped coat so that Diria will recognise them as his ‘surrogate mum’ regardless of who is wearing it.
From dusk until dawn a keeper accompanies Diria – as his mother would have done – providing comfort, security and regular bottles of milk.
During the day, he wanders around the unit getting a feel for his wild environment and interacting with other animals, and at night he sleeps in a warm stable.
A spokesperson for Sheldrick Wildlife Trust said: “Plains zebras live in close-knit groups and the bonds between mother and baby are especially strong.
“Baby zebras need to be able to recognise their mother from birth to survive so mothers will often keep their fluffy newborns away from the herd to ensure their calves imprint on them, recognising their unique bar-code coat, call and smell.
“Once the calf can identify its mother, the duo will return to the herd.
“Our team of caregivers are giving Diria the specialist 24/7 care he needs to give him the very best chance of survival.
“It’s an example of the extra mile our teams go to make sure these animals, that have already suffered so much, can pull through”.
Rob Brandford, executive director of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, added: “Diria is incredibly affectionate with his carers and, perhaps with the exception of his milk, loves nothing more than nuzzling into them as they comfortingly groom him.
“With the help of our supporters, we are proud to be in a position to help this baby boy after such a traumatic start to his life.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will continue to care for Diria until he is old enough and has the survival skills needed to reintegrate into wild populations in a protected area.