Thurmont man's pet zebra makes commuters smile
3-year-old equine was purchased for fun, owner says
Mountain zebras are native to Africa, not Maryland.
But Zoey, a domesticated female zebra who lives in Thurmont, has a great view of the Blue Ridge range, not Mount Kilimanjaro.
Many have seen Zoey while driving north on U.S. Route 15, but few know the story behind the exotic equine.
Zoey belongs to Jeff Barber, an Emmitsburg resident and the owner of Playground Specialists Inc., in Thurmont. The company operates on a 120-acre farm that Jeff and his father, Reggie Barber, have co-owned since 2006. The land is also home to about 40 head of cattle, two donkeys and, of course, a zebra.
"I'm more of a playful kind of person, hence I own a playground company," the younger Barber said. And his inspiration for getting a zebra? It would "give [people] something to look for and hopefully make them smile" during their commutes.
The farm was once home to a large, green dinosaur figure that was moved all around the property for fun, but it was stolen.
"People loved to drive by and see it," Jeff said. It was while brainstorming a way to keep the farm interesting for passers-by that he had the idea to purchase a zebra.
"If you just have cows, nobody's looking for your cows," he said. But a zebra "appeals to my kids and everybody driving up and down the highway."
It wasn't long after the thought popped into his head that a 6-week-old Zoey was on her way to Thurmont from a breeder in Virginia.
He thinks "a little farther out of the box than normal," Reggie Barber said of his son.
Jeff's 19-year-old daughter, Amanda, agreed.
"I think it's awesome, it's just random," she said, noting that the purchase was a surprise to her and her siblings.
Amanda, who works at the playground company, is one of four children. She has a twin sister who attends the University of Maryland, College Park, a 10-year-old sister and a 9-year-old brother. The younger siblings attend Emmitsburg Elementary School.
While the kids get a kick out of the fact that their dad owns a zebra, Zoey can't be ridden or played with like other equines can, Reggie said. She is also different from a horse in that she's smaller about the size of a pony is only fed grass and hay and will live to be about 35 years old, he added.
And while Zoey comes from a domesticated line, she still has the heart of a wild animal.
"You can't keep a zebra shut up in a stall," the elder Barber said. "They will absolutely come apart." Instead, Zoey takes shelter in a "loafing shed," an open structure that can protect her from the weather but does not have four walls.
Since zebras are generally "flighty animals," she is kept with a pair of docile donkeys to help her stay grounded. Lisa and Jack, who also keep Zoey from getting lonely, were purchased solely for that reason, Jeff Barber said.
The zebra actually seems to think that Lisa the donkey is her mother, he added.
On an average day, Zoey can be seen standing in one of the farm's fields, her stunning pattern standing out from the crowd that consists of Lisa, who is white, and Jack, who is gray.
While Zoey isn't exactly a "hands-on" animal, "she's cute as a button," Barber noted. It's fun to watch her chase the cows and dogs or gallop away when someone approaches her pen, only to come right back and sniff around curiously, he said.
Among friends, Barber owning a zebra "is one of those things that's kind of become comical," he said. But he hopes that Zoey has brought a smile to more faces than just theirs.
"If we've made people smile, we've done something good."