Three zebras shot and killed after escaping from Hearst Ranch

Zebras graze on Hearst Ranch property near San Simeon in 1996.
Zebras graze on Hearst Ranch property near San Simeon in 1996. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Three zebras that escaped from the Hearst Ranch last week were shot and killed by Cambria-area ranchers who said the exotic animals were threatening the safety of their livestock.

David Fiscalini, the owner of the Green Valley Cattle Co. on Highway 46, said two of the zebras were shot after they had gotten into the horse pasture behind his house. The third was shot by a neighbor after it got into a herd of cows.

Fiscalini said he had no choice but to shoot the zebras because they were spooking his seven ranch horses, chasing them and putting them at risk of getting injured. He described the event as an ordeal and said he took no pleasure in killing the zebras.

It’s branding time on the ranch, and Fiscalini said replacing a horse that might have been injured by a run-in with the zebras would have cost him tens of thousands of dollars.

“These zebras have no respect for fences,” he said. “They tear fences down and go right through them.”

Fiscalini said the zebras weren’t trying to hurt his horses, but his animals were spooked by the presence of the exotic animals. He said everything he did was legal and that he did not need a depredation permit to kill the animals.

William Randolph Hearst’s great-grandson, Steve Hearst, said he was “a little shocked and disappointed that our neighbors wouldn’t have just called to say, ‘We have three of your zebras down here, and how do you want to get them back?’ Neighbors are usually there to help their neighbors, not shoot their zebras. It’s a shame they took that action.”

Asked why he did not call Hearst Ranch to come get the zebras, Fiscalini said he felt the threat was imminent to his animals and he had to act quickly.

“It was going on now — they (Hearst Ranch) are not going to be able to show up and get those zebras. They are wild animals. How are you going to catch them?”

There was no indication that any laws were broken. A sheriff’s official familiar with the incident said the shooting would fall in the jurisdiction of the state Department of Fish and Game; no immediate response was received Tuesday to inquiries to Fish and Game about the shooting.

Zebras are not a native species and thus are not listed as endangered or threatened animals.

The zebras apparently made their way about 10 miles from the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon to the ranch along Highway 46.

The zebras’ hides are being tanned in Atascadero, according to Rosemary Anderson of Anderson Taxidermy. Fiscalini said he did not want to waste the hides.

The animals are descendants of zebras brought to the San Simeon estate of William Randolph Hearst. The ranch today has about 80 zebras, and herds still wander the land around Hearst Castle, often causing motorists to stop along Highway 1 to take photos.

Zebras will wander, Hearst said. “They have some respect for a fence. But if they want to move, they’ll hop the fence.”

W.R. Hearst’s animal collection, established in 1923, was at one time the largest private zoo in the world. It was dispersed beginning in 1937. Besides zebras, a few Barbary sheep, tahr goats and sambar still graze on the ranch’s 82,000 acres.

Tribune staff members Bert Etling, David Sneed and Kathe Tanner contributed to this report.