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Owner of Maryland’s Runaway Zebras Is Charged With Animal Cruelty

The owner of the three zebras that escaped from a farm in suburban Maryland in August, delighting residents and stealthily evading efforts to corral them, was charged with three counts of animal cruelty on Tuesday, the authorities said.

The charges against the owner, Jerry Lee Holly, came a month after one of the wayward zebras was found dead in an illegal snare trap, and a day after another zebra that hadn’t escaped was found dead inside Mr. Holly’s enclosure.

Mr. Holly, 76, of Upper Marlboro, Md., was charged after three of his zebras escaped from a privately owned farm on Aug. 26, Prince George’s County prosecutors said in a charging document. The animals were part of a zeal, as a bunch of zebras is sometimes called, of about 40 that had been brought to the farm from Florida that month.

The authorities accused Mr. Holly in the charging document of failing to provide a zebra with food and proper shelter, and of depriving a zebra of necessary sustenance and inflicting unnecessary pain. Each of the animal cruelty counts, which are criminal charges, carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Mr. Holly could not be reached on Wednesday at several numbers listed under his name. The charges against him were reported by WUSA.

After the zebras were reported “at large” in August, Mr. Holly told county animal services officials that he had “no plan to recapture the zebras,” according to the document.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police said on Wednesday that the agency was still investigating to determine who set the trap that killed the first dead zebra. The zebra’s “completely decomposed” body was found just outside Mr. Holly’s enclosure in Upper Marlboro, which is about 20 miles southeast of Washington, according to the charging document.

The zebra most likely died of dehydration after it was stuck in the trap for a few days, according to Rodney Taylor, the chief of the Prince George’s County Animal Services Division, who filed the charges.

“The animal should have been seen or heard while it was dying from being caught in the snare if the caretaker had attended to the zebras,” he wrote in the document.

The second zebra, which died inside the enclosure, “had been deceased long enough that it had entered the rigor-mortis stage,” the document said.

Animal control officers learned about the second dead zebra after someone in a news helicopter noticed the animal in Mr. Holly’s enclosure, Linda Lowe, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The county authorities are investigating how the three zebras ran away and are inspecting Mr. Holly’s farm every few days, Ms. Lowe said.

The remaining runaways, which Mr. Taylor said “pose a threat to the community,” have been eking out a life in the Maryland suburbs, far from the grasslands of eastern and southern Africa.

There has been no shortage of zebra sightings, as the animals have crossed backyards, through streets and railroad tracks. Linda Pennoyer, the mayor of Upper Marlboro, said earlier this month that the animals had become local “celebrities,” their every move documented on social media.

Mr. Taylor did not respond to emails and phone calls on Wednesday afternoon, but in an interview in September, he said that he did not know why Mr. Holly had been keeping zebras in Maryland, and that they were not part of a zoo or other exposition.

According to Prince George’s County court records, Mr. Holly was the plaintiff in a 2005 lawsuit against the county animal control officers. It is unclear what the case was about.

Agriculture Department records indicate that Mr. Holly kept a range of wild animals on his farm, including black-handed spider monkeys, dromedaries, mandrills, red kangaroos, brown lemurs, capybaras and gibbons.

In a statement, Kitty Block, the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said she hoped that the authorities would ensure that Mr. Holly’s other animals would not suffer the same fate as the zebra that died in a trap.

“These animals need to be relocated as soon as possible to more appropriate facilities with responsible caregivers,” she said.

A person named Jerry L. Holly of Upper Marlboro, Md., had a “Class A breeder” license under the Animal Welfare Act, a federal law that regulates animal treatment, that expired on Oct. 7, according to the Agriculture Department.

From 2010 to 2013, Mr. Holly was cited almost 50 times for violating the act, according to a 2013 Agriculture Department document that the Humane Society provided to The New York Times. He was cited for failing to remove feces from a kangaroo enclosure and for failing to maintain fencing for his zebra, camel, alpaca and llama pastures, among other violations.

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