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The owner of three escaped zebras in Maryland has been charged with animal cruelty

An escaped zebra photographed in 2019 in Germany. Three zebras escaped in August from a Maryland farm owned by Jerry Holly, who has now been charged with three counts of animal cruelty.
Bernd Wustneck
dpa/AFP via Getty Images
An escaped zebra photographed in 2019 in Germany. Three zebras escaped in August from a Maryland farm owned by Jerry Holly, who has now been charged with three counts of animal cruelty.

Updated October 20, 2021 at 5:08 PM ET

The owner of three escaped zebras in Maryland has been charged with three counts of animal cruelty after one of the zebras was reported last week to have been discovered dead in a snare trap.

Jerry Holly, the owner of an exotic animal breeding business in Upper Marlboro, Md., about 20 miles southeast of Washington, D.C., is accused of inflicting and authorizing "unnecessary suffering or pain on a Zebra," according to court documents obtained by NPR. Holly was also charged with not providing adequate shelter or food.

Each of the three misdemeanor charges carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in prison or a fine of $1,000. The charges were filed Tuesday by the state's attorney in Prince George's County, Md.

"The zebras at large have not received adequate food, water, or veterinary care. One of the zebras died because it was at-large," says the complaint, which was written by Rodney Taylor, the associate director of the Prince George's County Animal Services Division.

A spokesperson for the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office declined to comment on a pending case. Holly has not made any public statements or spoken to the media since the animals escaped in August.

Three zebras escaped from Holly's legally owned herd on August 26 and had been on the loose since, becoming a trio of social media darlings as residents of the semi-rural area posted photos and videos of their sightings.

For weeks, officials had mostly left it to Holly's animal caretakers to capture the zebras, primarily by attempting to lure them back toward his property.

Then, last week, the county announced that one of the zebras had been discovered dead in a snare trap on private property next to Holly's land in Upper Marlboro. The use of snare traps is illegal in Prince George's County.

The zebra had been dead for long enough for its body to be "completely decomposed" by the time county investigators were called to the scene by a third party in mid-September.

According to the charging document, the body was found "within two feet" of the fence separating the property from Holly's farm.

"The animal should have been seen or heard while it was dying from being caught in the snare if the caretaker had attended to the zebras in the fenced enclosure, and most likely died of dehydration after a period of a few days struggling in the trap," the complaint states, citing a Maryland Department of Natural Resources investigator.

The other two zebras are still at large. County investigators are working to capture them, according to a statement from the Prince George's County Department of Energy.

"At this time, the DoE is not impounding the remaining animals housed on the property," the statement reads. "However, the DoE is exploring all options, and potential partnerships with animal sanctuaries should the animals be removed."

In addition to the three escaped zebras, the animal cruelty complaint references the death of an additional zebra that had not escaped Holly's property. Its body was discovered by county investigators Tuesday after the county received a tip that a news helicopter had filmed what appeared to be a dead zebra. The charges also reference the as-yet unexplained loss of yet another zebra from the original herd of 40.

An investigation by WAMU found that inspections of Holly's properties in Maryland and Florida had repeatedly turned up problems with fencing. In 2013, Holly was fined more than $12,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including for dangerous animal enclosures.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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