In Utah we hear of cattle, sheep, and horses, but never once has it crossed my mind that Utah could be the home to a herd of zebras! I could not believe it until I was standing in Duane Gilbert’s Bar G Ranch in Emery County, surrounded by Grant Zebras and Watusi Cattle. As there is a stable, but not large demand for zebras, Gilbert finds himself as one of only a handful of zebra breeders across the United States. The market that Gilbert finds himself selling to is zoos around the country and individuals that keep them as pets to raise.
Castle Dale rancher Duane Gilbert began raising exotic animals when he decided to purchase Watusi Cattle, an African breed known for their wide-spread, large horns. After spending some time in the exotic animal industry, Gilbert decided that it would be fun to breed zebras so, in 1972, he began raising a variety known as Grant Zebras. Zebras travel in herds, and in Gilbert’s herd, there are two studs (male) and the rest are mares (female).
Duane explained that zebras are an extremely anxious species, no matter the situation. Gilbert went on to talk about how this entire herd, despite having been born and raised on his farm, is always jumpy. If Gilbert makes any sudden movements, the herd will bolt.
“They always think a lion is going to be behind them, it’s their internal instincts,” Gilbert said. Because of their extremely anxious nature, they are a difficult animal to have on the farm. Gilbert said that in the time it takes to “break” (a term used by trainers to get horses to allow themselves to be ridden) 10 wild horses you might be able to “break” one zebra, but that is not even a guarantee.
While zebras are difficult to raise, there are also some benefits to the exotic animal. Zebras are less susceptible to diseases than horses and are less high maintenance. In addition, zebras are a very difficult animal to attempt to steal or hurt. When asked if anyone has tried to ride the zebras, Gilbert laughed and said that his zebras won’t let anyone near them.
Gilbert has been breeding these exotic animals for 46 years, and finds enjoyment in seeing them in their natural, wild habitat. You could say that his life perspective is very black and white.