Grevy’s Zebra

This is about the Grevy’s zebra, but first, are you familiar with the term ‘jizz’?

Jizz is word invented by birdwatchers to describe the overall impression or appearance of a bird that is too far away to see clearly, or that was only seen for a fleeting second. Jizz means an impression that one gets from seeing all the features – the shape, the posture, the flight, size, colour, voice, habitat, location – and when you put them all togeether, that’s the jizz.

The word ‘jizz’ has spread to other animal watchers. And it perfectly describes what happened when I watched a zebra trotting down a grassy embankment in the Eastern Cape in South Africa. In that moment I ‘saw’ that zebras are horses. It was like there was a horse hidden inside the zebra that I could see from the way it moved. The jizz.

Now I knew zebras were in the same family as horses and asses, but that’s not quite the same thing as seeing it. Put this way, ‘seeing’ means gathering information and taking it inside of oneself, until a transformation takes place and the one owns it. It’s a funny process, when you think about it. We learn all the bits about something, and then we assemble them inside us to make something we know in a way that is more than the sum of its parts.

Elegant Grevy’s Zebra

A card for a friend when relationships have been strained with a plea to 'Make Up' illustrated by a zebra in black and white and text 'Can We Make Up?' and 'Not Everything Is Black And White'

I like looking at Grevy’s zebra. I like looking at plains zebras and mountain zebras, I like them all. But I particularly like Grevy’s because they are a little more fine boned and have more stripes, and the stripes are narrower. If plains zebra are a bit dumpy, Grevy’s are elegant.

If you see a zebra and think it might be a Grevy’s, there’s an easy way to tell. Unlike other zebras, the stripes on a Grevy’s don’t go all the way down and around its belly. Instead, the stripes stop, and the belly is more or less white.

And that just leaves the name. It wasn’t a Mr Grevy would discovered them. In 1882 the naturalist Émile Oustalet named the zebra after Jules Grévy, who was then president of France. The emperor of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia) gave a zebra to the president of France and Mr Oustalet recognised that it was a different species to previously known zebras. It’s a strange story, and even stranger for the zebra who found itself in strange surroundings.

Fast forward to today and the International Union for Conservation of Nature list the Grevy’s zebra as endangered, with about 2,500 adults left in the wild.

There is a terrible prognosis in the word ‘left’ as in the words ‘left in the wild’. It’s like ‘there are only a few left in the packet, so you may as well finish them.’

We have made several greeting cards featuring zebras, and here is one of them. As you can see, it is a Grevy’s zebra asking ‘Can we make up?’ and saying that not everything it black and white. It’s a card for rekindling a friendship after a difficult patch.

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