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Killing of zebras near Hearst Castle stirs controversy

January 12, 2011 |  3:47 pm

Along with hairpin curves and heart-stopping views of the Pacific, motorists on California Highway 1 near the town of San Simeon may catch a glimpse of a most exotic sight: a herd of five dozen zebras grazing in the pastures along the road.

They are what is left of what was at one time the world’s largest private zoo — a menagerie of camels, kangaroos, emus and giraffes that roamed the sprawling estate of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

Most of the animals were sold off in the 1930s. But the zebras remained on the Hearst Ranch and multiplied. They have been known to wander.

Last week three zebras — a buck, a mare and a yearling — escaped from the 128-square mile ranch and wandered down California Highway 46.

On Wednesday two of them turned up in a pasture on David Fiscalini’s cattle ranch, where, he told the San Luis Obispo Tribune, they spooked his horses.

So he raised his shotgun and killed them.

The same day, another rancher shot the third zebra at a ranch nearby.

Many people in rural communities believe a rancher has a right to defend his livestock against intruders -- no matter how rare the  animals are. But Fiscalini’s actions the next day raised eyebrows.

On Thursday he called a local taxidermist and asked him to come out to the ranch. He said he needed someone to skin the zebra and tan the hide so he could make a rug.

“You can’t believe the controversy,” said Rosemary Anderson, whose husband is the taxidermist that handled the zebras.

“It breaks my heart to see it killed, because it’s wanton waste,” she said. “It’s very sad that it wasn’t handled in a different manner, but this rancher felt that was he taking care of his property and getting rid of a predator.”

Stephen Hearst, the great-grandson of William Randolph Hearst, said he was shocked to learn about the killings.

He said the zebras rarely venture outside the fence that surrounds the Hearst Ranch, “but from time to time they do, and neighbors give us a call and we retrieve them.”

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