Georgia Officials Returning Confiscated Zebra to Owner

Ziggy the Zebra is going home to the farm, but it took a lawyer and multiple meetings with a judge to spring him from state custody.

His owner, Christian Gray of Bolingbroke, Ga., reached an agreement Thursday with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources allowing him to reclaim the zebra that was confiscated from his 17-acre farm in August because he did not have the proper license.

He must pay a $4,000 a civil penalty for having a wild animal without a permit, $500 in boarding fees to a licensed wildlife facility that took care of Ziggy after he was confiscated, and $236 for a wild animal exhibition license.

"That's a lot of money for a zebra I already had, but Ziggy is priceless to me and my girls," Gray told The Telegraph newspaper of Macon. "I'm glad we've worked it out and we'll get him back."

After DNR officials confiscated Ziggy on Aug. 28, Gray and his neighbors began a "Free Ziggy" campaign. Gray hired an attorney to help.

The case was scheduled to go before Monroe Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Wilson on Thursday, but instead the parties met in chambers with Wilson three times during the day to hammer out an agreement.

Gray said DNR officials wanted him to pay a $9,000 fine, $10 a day in boarding fees and forfeit ownership of Ziggy. But after negotiations and a lunchtime inspection of Gray's farm, they agreed to consider Gray's application for a wild animal exhibition license and said Gray can reclaim Ziggy once the application is processed.

Robin Hill, communications program manager for the DNR's Wildlife Resources Division, said the DNR is satisfied.

"All along we have wanted Mr. Gray to be in compliance with our wildlife laws, and this will allow him to be," she said. "We seized the zebra because Mr. Gray was not licensed as a wildlife provider. People should be aware that if they want to acquire a wild animal, they need to do their due diligence."

Gray bought Ziggy about a year ago when it was 2 weeks old from a friend in Texas who raises exotic animals. He took Ziggy home to his daughters Chloe, 12, and Abby, 5.

"We saw the movie 'Racing Stripes,' and the girls had to have a zebra," Gray said. The 2005 movie is about a baby zebra abandoned by a traveling circus that is rescued by a horse trainer.

Gray said he called the state Department of Agriculture, thinking it would be covered by horse regulations. He said he was told all he needed to own a zebra was a test certifying it was disease free. Gray had Ziggy tested and brought him to Georgia.

But after an anonymous tip, DNR officials went to Gray's Bolingbroke home Aug. 28 and took Ziggy.

Gray said he and his daughters plan to host a neighborhood party to welcome Ziggy home and that he is already booked for several functions, including the upcoming Christmas parade in Forsyth.

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The Associated Press

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