Pet Zebra Freezes to Death in Indiana

As the temperature plunged below zero late in January, a zebra’s back hooves got caught in a fence surrounding the Indiana farm on which he was being kept as a pet. Despite the extreme weather conditions, no one bothered to check on the welfare of this animal. Unable to free himself, the zebra panicked, gulping in so much icy cold air that it crystallized in his lungs, killing him.

Zebras in the wild make their habitats in warm savannahs and grasslands where the temperature is never subfreezing. The chilliest it gets in the winter is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a heartbreaking photo taken by Indiana resident Sonya Kendall, another zebra lies beside the body of his trapped, dead friend. Along with these two zebras, their unidentified owners also have pet kangaroos—and they are breaking no laws in Indiana.

In fact, statewide, Indiana doesn’t ban keeping any species of animals as pets. Owners simply have to apply for a $10 permit to keep them.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approves about 25 new wild animal permits every year, Linnea Petercheff, operations specialist with the division of fish and wildlife, told the Indianapolis Star in 2014. At that time there were permits for over 300 exotic pets in the state, including a bobcat, coyote and rattlesnake. Only the owners of dangerous animals must have their properties inspected by the DNR and provide the department with plans in case the animal escapes.

Many exotic pet owners in Indiana don’t apply for permits, Petercheff said. The DNR responds every week to calls about these animals, usually reported by neighbors and veterinarians, and these calls had increased in recent years. The owners may simply receive a warning, or the department may confiscate the animal. The most owners can be charged with is a misdemeanor, punishable with a maximum $500 fine and up to 60 days of jail time.

As the zebra that froze to death tragically illustrates, the private ownership of exotic animals can result in inhumane conditions for the animals, and it can also be dangerous for people. For these reasons, many animal welfare organizations—including the American Veterinary Medical Association, ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States—oppose it. Twenty U.S. states have comprehensive bans on exotic pet ownership.

“Indiana laws need to do more to protect animals,” Kendall told The Hill, with “stricter regulations on exotic animal ownership [and] more specific language in the laws that outline what is really adequate and safe shelter, especially in extreme weather situations.”

Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby and other officers inspected the farm on which the zebra was living and determined it provided “adequate provisions for outside animals,” including shelter, food and water, WFLI reports. The property owners, Leazenby said, “are going through more measures to ensure the rest of their animals remain safe.”

The sheriff’s department is filing a report with the Carroll County Prosecutor’s Office, which will decide whether this was a case of animal neglect or just an accident. It seems to be a tragic case of both—and it could have been avoided if, like many U.S. states, Indiana banned the private ownership of exotic animals.

Take Action

Please sign and share this petition urging Indiana lawmakers to prohibit the private ownership of wild and exotic animals as pets.

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Photo credit: Barbara Eckstein/Flickr


heather g
heather g2 months ago

That person should be heavily fined. Everybody knows that they belong in a warm climate. That's a horrible report and reflects very poorly on Indiana,

Joanna P
Joanna P2 months ago

Zebras are not pets. Come on, USA, you're dragging the world backwards in many ways including cruelty.

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D2 months ago

The words "pet" and "zebra" should NEVER be in the same sentence. I would hope charges were filed against the owners. If they were not then that too is a crime.

Renata Kovacs
Renata K2 months ago


Marguerite White
Marguerite White2 months ago

Its terrible and so sad that this happened to the Zebra and I was extremely surprised that anyone had a Zebra,I knew America is allowed to have wild animals, but I think its ridiculous to have wild animals as pets as they cannot be looked after properly,but according if they have plenty of land and look after them well,the owners should of checked on the Zebra's and other animals if they are suppose to be responsible for these animals welfare.I feel sorry that the Zebra and his mate had to suffer so much.It shouldn't of happened.

Roberta G
Roberta G2 months ago

Is there a follow-up to this story? Are the owners being charged?

Richard M
Richard M2 months ago

This is disgraceful. Wild animals do not belong in captivity and are certainly not pets. The owners are cruel and inhuman, and should be charged in this poor zebra’s death and prevented from having animals again. They are clearly unfit.

Leanne K
Leanne K2 months ago

Zebras are herd animals and they are far from pets

Leanne K
Leanne K2 months ago

Just who is supplying these animals. Go after them big time

joan silaco
joan silaco2 months ago

Indiana is not the damn savannah!