The Zoo’s first zebra foal arrived under dramatic circumstances after much anxious anticipation.
  • 1940s
  • 1950s

It was a dark and stormy night. No, it really was! The Zoo’s first zebra foal arrived under dramatic circumstances after much anxious anticipation. The Zoo had been hoping for a breeding pair of zebras for years when they finally obtained a male Grant’s zebra to accompany their female. When the female was determined to be pregnant, Zoo director Belle Benchley was thrilled. But her excitement turned to concern as it seemed that, according to their calculations, the birth was long overdue. She told the head keeper several times that she thought today might be the day, but to no avail.

Then on December 11, 1942, “a day of rain and wind and penetrating cold,” Belle told the keeper before she headed home that this time it really looked like the birth might be imminent. He laughed, but said he would check on the zebra late in the evening, and she appeared just fine to him when he stopped by. He didn’t stick around too long, however, because a severe thunderstorm came rolling in, with streaks of lightning, pouring rain, and strong winds.

But Belle’s hunch turned out to be correct this time—it was during this tumultuous storm that the Zoo’s first zebra was born. When Belle arrived at the Zoo the next morning, she said something drew her out to the mesa, despite the rain and mud, and there was the foal, a female, standing next to her mother and “her tiny tail was switching in true zebra fashion, her luxuriant mane was erect, and when her mother moved toward us, for already the staff was gathering, the baby came right along, step for step, with her.”

In honor of the circumstances of her birth, the little filly was officially named Thunder. However, the head keeper wouldn’t call her anything but Belle B., usually with a knowing smile, because of all Belle’s worrying and watching leading up to the birth.

Images of San Diego Zoo Centennial commemorative pins. ShopZoo: Your one-stop shop for Centennial commemoratives, gear, and more!