Domestication of the Zebra: A Fail for the U.S. Government

Until his death on December 14, 1919, Dan lived out his day at the National Zoo (Smithsonian Institution Archive

Health Editor’s Note:  I can only say, “Thank you, Dan.”….Carol

How Dan the Zebra Stopped an Ill-Fated Government Breeding Program in Its Tracks

by  William Taylor/

The skeleton of NMNH 221086, sometimes referred to as “Dan,” resides in a steel cabinet in a dimly lit storage room at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland. The skeleton is a male Grevy’s zebra (Equus greyvi) that was born in the kingdom of Abyssinia (now northern Ethiopia) in the early 20th century. In 1904, Abyssinia’s King Menelik presented the four-year-old zebra as a gift to President Theodore Roosevelt. Dan was soon transported to America—the first chapter in a strange journey that holds some important lessons for human history.

With technology and geopolitics changing at a faster and faster pace, the late 19th and early 20th century saw people, plants and animals moving between continents like never before, including the colonial and imperialist expansions of the western world into Africa, Australasia and the Americas. Before motorized vehicles, much of this expansion was powered by hoofbeats—horses were not only transportation, but also still played a key role in military infrastructure, agriculture, industry and communication.

However, some areas of the world, such as equatorial Africa, were hostile environments for horses. This region, known for its notorious tsetse flies and parasitic diseases like trypanosomiasis, …..

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