Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Monday 22 October 2012


Artistic representation of the zebro's possible appearance ((c) ejbeneite.blogspot.co.uk)

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, several Spanish hunting treatises alluded to a mysterious, now-vanished equine creature known as the zebro (or encebro, in Aragon), living wild in the Iberian Peninsula. In one of these works, it was described as “an animal resembling a mare, of grey colour with a black band running along the spine and a dark muzzle". Others likened it to a donkey but louder, stronger, and much faster, with a notable temper, and whose hair was streaked with grey and white on its back and legs. What could it have been?

Although largely forgotten nowadays, the zebro experienced a brief revival of interest from science in 1992. That was when archaeologists Carlos Nores and Corina von Lettow-Vorbeck Liesau published a very thought-provoking article in the Spanish scientific magazine Archaeofauna, in which they boldly proposed that the zebro may have been one and the same as an equally enigmatic fossil species – Equus hydruntinus, the European wild ass.

Artistic representation of the European wild ass Equus hydruntinus (Francesco Gabelione, (c) 2009, IBAM ITLab)

The precise taxonomic affinities of this latter equid have yet to be satisfactorily resolved, for although genetic and morphological analyses suggest that it was very closely related to the onager E. hemionus, one of several species of Asiatic wild ass, it can apparently be differentiated from these and also from African wild asses by way of its distinctive molars and its relatively short nares (nasal passages). Arising during the mid-Pleistocene epoch, approximately 300,000 years Before Present, the European wild ass persisted into the early Holocene before finally becoming extinct. During the late Pleistocene, its zoogeographical distribution in western Eurasia stretched from Iran in the Middle East into much of Europe, reaching as far north as Germany, and it was particularly abundant along the Mediterranean, with fossil remains having been recovered from Turkey, Sicily, Spain, Portugal, and France.

According to Nores and Liesau, moreover, this species may have survived in southernmost Spain and certain remote parts of Portugal until as late as the 16th Century (they consider its disappearance to represent the Iberian Peninsula’s last megafaunal extinction), where, they suggest, it became known locally as the zebro. More recently, their theory gained support from the discovery of E. hydruntinus remains at Cerro de la Virgen, Granada, dating from as late as the 9th Century.

A sorraia stallion (Selona/Wikipedia)

Some researchers have also suggested that before dying out, the zebro gave rise at least in part to a primitive, nowadays-endangered Iberian breed of donkey-like domestic horse called the sorraia (which was once itself referred to as the zebro). Furthermore, many believe that it was from the term ‘zebro’ that ‘zebra’ originated as the almost universally-used common name for Africa’s familiar striped equids.

Even today, many Iberian place-names still exist in which the mysterious but now-obscure zebro’s name is preserved. These include Ribeira do Zebro in Portugal; and Valdencebro (in Teruel), Cebreros (Ávila), Encebras (Alicante), and Las Encebras (Murcia) in Spain.

A partbred grullo Sorraia colt exhibiting zebra type stripes formed by the lay pattern of the newborn foal hair coat. The dorsal and leg stripes remain, but the lay pattern stripes disappears after several days or weeks when the hair is fully fluffed (Selona/Wikipedia)


NORES, Carlos & LIESAU, Corina (1992). La zoologia historica como complemento de la arqueozoologia. El caso del zebro. Archaeofauna, vol. 1, pp. 61-71.

This ShukerNature blog post was originally published as an article in issue #1 of Flying Snake.


  1. Hello.

    Thank you for your very intriguing article. That's why I love ShukerNature - always something worth reading!

    1. Thank you very much - I'm delighted that you enjoy ShukerNature so much!

  2. As a spaniard (I'm writing from Madrid) I never had heard about that animal, the zebro. It sounds weird and very interesting to me. Could you, Dr Shuker, please say us what "several Spanish hunting treatises" are you specifically referring about? Thank you.

  3. Hi Luis,
    The treatises are named in some of the publications cited in the reference list of the above-named paper by Nores and Liesau.
    All the best, Karl

  4. I know Carlos Nores personally, because he taught me vertebrates zoology at the University. He is pasionate about animals. I specially enjoyed his classes because he used to spend a long time talking about the way of life of the species, he didn´t focus on anatomy like other teachers did. He also researched about the basq whale or the cantabrian brown bear among other species of vertebrates.

  5. He is author of many articles in the media and he´s quite interested in cryptozoology. I remember his article about the clues of the presence of the iberian lynx in northern Spain. He also carried out a research about the hunt of the basque whale in Asturias (Northern Spain).

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