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LA Zoo on a mission to breed its 3 new, threatened zebras

Four newly acquired Grevy's zebras are now on exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the Grevy's zebra as a threatened species, and the zoo hopes the herd of one stallion and three mares will get along well enough to breed, meanwhile helping to educate the public about their declining population in the wild.

The male, 4 years old, hails from the Bronx Zoo. The three females, all two years old and younger, came from the Jacksonville Zoo and the Oglebay Park Good Zoo.

"The keepers are working really hard at introducing them behind the scenes, and they now have access to the exhibit, and they are exhibited daily here at the L.A. Zoo, weather permitting," said Karen Poly, an animal keeper with the L.A. Zoo.

In the wild, the male would stake out territory, and as mares traveled through, would choose one and separate her from the rest of the group, Poly told KPCC.

"It's pretty active, so you'll see probably a lot of chasing, a lot of kicking, a lot of sniffing, but these things are all totally normal," Poly said.

An estimated 15,000 Grevy's zebras roamed the wild in the early 1970s, but their unique pelt — a very narrow stripe pattern with a white belly — made them more desirable to the fashion industry, and they were hunted down to dangerous levels, Poly said.

Their numbers now hover below 2,500 in the wild, and Poly said there are only about 400 in captivity.

The species tends to live in Kenya and parts of Ethiopia and gets its name from former French president Jules Grevy, according to Poly. 

Grevy was given a zebra as a gift in the 1800s. He thought it belonged to another species known as the plains zebra. After the animal passed away and his pelt was hanging on the walls of a museum, however, it was discovered that the pattern of stripes was very different, so it was named after him.

As for the animals at the L.A. Zoo, the staff will be working on individual names soon, Poly said.