Couple keeps zebra, other exotic animals

Saturday, November 11, 2006

By KRISTEN HARE

St. Joseph News-Press

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- On an October morning, when the sky hangs gray with cold rain, an old man in overalls shakes a coffee can full of corn.

"C'mon zeeb," he calls out and his voice travels across the soggy hills.

"Zeeb, c'mere," he clears his throat. "C'mon."

"C'mon, c'mon."

A zebra looks up.

"Oh, he's comin' now. C'mon."

In the wilds of northwest Missouri, where cows munch alongside fields of soybeans and corn, where hills bob high and low, there lives a zebra.

"C'mon you guys, c'mon."

He has no name. He has no family, except a zeedonk and two friendly French donkeys.

His home is this pasture with a green pond.

And every day, two people come to see him.

The man comes early, throws corn and horse feed. Then, he heads for his black Angus, some 300 head, that matter to him most.

The woman comes a few hours later.

She stands at the fence. She watches her zebra.

Like something from a safari or magazine or documentary, it doesn't fit on the farm.

But in a pasture two miles south of Stewartsville, a zebra lives and eats, plays and sleeps like it belongs.

On the walls of John and Marie Smith's small brick house hang portraits of black Angus -- thick, strong, unconcerned.

"Cattle's my cup of tea," says John Smith, 82, from the comfort of his chair. "This is her deal."

"Not really," says Marie, 79. She wears large, rose-tinted glasses and rings on most of her fingers.

The zebra is hers.

Several years ago, the Smiths sat in the stands at the Lolli Brothers Livestock Market in Macon, where exotic animals crept and crawled before them.

Marie Smith just got to buying, her husband says.

They bought a water buffalo. They bought miniature horses and llamas. And then she saw the zebra.

"I really loved 'em," Marie Smith says. "And I just wanted one."

"I didn't think too much of it," her husband says. "But she wanted it."

Though not grazing on every farm, there are zebras around Missouri, says Dominic Lolli, co-owner of the Macon livestock market.

Zebras adapt well to their environment, mix well with other animals and rarely get sick.

The Smiths' first zebra died a few years ago. The zebra they have now cost about $2,500.

They've had him for a few years. And now, along with the zeedonk, a zebra-donkey mix, the Smiths own enough animals to have a modest exotic animal tour of their own, including watusi cattle, miniature donkeys and emus.

But the zebra isn't a pet.

Neighbors, visitors and the Smiths' 18 grandchildren and great-grandchildren don't touch or ride him.

Even though he lives on a farm and roughs out the winter with the others, the zebra's still a little wild.

But in the wilds of northwest Missouri, where cows munch alongside fields of soybeans and corn, where hills bob high and low, there lives a zebra.

Exotic. Out of place. But home.

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