Episode 15: The Zebra

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Welcome to the wonderful world of Histories of the Unexpected. Your guides, for this adventure through the savannah, will be the Behemoth of Bygone Days, Dr Sam Willis and the Devil of Dates, Professor James Daybell. From the U-Boats of the First World War and the zoologist John Graham Kerr and Picasso, to show jumping zebras and Lord Rothschild, from Samuel Pepys and the first recorded example of a paid subject being used in a medical experiment in 1677, to the Beatles and Abbey Road, Sam and James discover the quite extraordinary history of the zebra. Join the intrepid historical explorers as they open the stripy door of antiquity to reveal that the history of the zebra is actually all about: confusion and camouflage, ownership and display, safety and conservation, encounters and interactions, and the rise of the automobile.

If you should ever fall out with a colleague you might want to consider the reaction of the British Museum’s Keeper of Zoological collections, John Edward Grey when he fell out with the explorer John Burchell in 1824. Burchell had bickered with Grey over some damage sustained to his collection, Grey’s response, so the story goes, was to name a species of zebra after his nemesis – ‘Asinus Burchelli’ (with asinus translating as ass). Now there’s a man who thought long-term when it came to revenge!


‘There’s no limit to

How much you’ll know

Depending how far

Beyond Zebra you go!’             Dr Seuss, On Beyond Zebra (Random House, 1955)

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