Much to the surprise of everyone involved, two zebras recently made a 24-mile trek through Temecula Valley Wine Country.
Ellen and Pumpkin are two of five zebras owned by Celebrity Ranch in the unincorporated area of Temecula Valley Wine Country, and their adventure caused the surrounding community to pull together to find them.
Celebrity Ranch is a nonprofit, 82-acre camp for underprivileged children, providing them a camp experience no matter the parents’ budget or their situation. Children, groups or families can stay for a weekend for $20 per person. They have a wide range of animals: bison, camels, yaks, horses, chickens, pigs, donkeys and zebras.
Ranch director Jennifer Fuller started calling neighbors when she discovered a few of her zebras went over the back fence.
“The first people that I called were Karen and Ron Leftidge,” Fuller said. “He’s the retired fire chief out here, and they immediately posted on Facebook for me.”
Fuller loaded up the employees into vehicles.
“Ron and Karen were already out looking for us,” she said. “They are just such a blessing.”
Karen Leftidge, who lives near Celebrity Ranch, initially posted it on the Facebook group Temecula Talk in hopes they might rally some others to help.
“We got into our truck and we drove around for about three hours,” Leftidge said.
Fuller then got on Facebook and asked if anyone had a quad or dirt bike that would be able to help with the zebra search.
Winchester resident Justin Lamb saw the post on a community page and went out on his dirt bike.
I was probably out for three hours,” Lamb said. “It really didn’t seem that long. I just went out probably around 3:30 p.m., and once the sun started setting, I had talked to Jennifer and they were calling it an evening too, so I headed out of there.
“It was a great excuse to get out and ride a bit and help where I could,” Lamb said.
John Stewart, a resident who lives near Celebrity Ranch first read the post on Facebook and took his brother in their Razor to go search for them.
“I’ve been out there for a while so I kind of know every little dirt road and little canyon so I felt like I could help a lot,” Stewart said.
“I went down one pretty messed up road and we spotted them, so I called her right away and we raced over but they were gone by the time that we got back,” Stewart said. “It was kind of cool seeing them all the way down this little canyon on top of this mountain, I felt like I was in Africa or something,” he said, laughing.
It all happened between Sunday, May 17, to Tuesday, May 19.
“Between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. everybody in this valley had started looking and reaching out,” Fuller said.
“People offered drones, a helicopter,” she said, adding that the helicopter comment at first was sarcastic but ended up being really helpful.
“The guy called up SCE (Southern California Edison) and reported it on their website, so the helicopter went out,” Fuller said.
They had to call it a night Sunday. The next morning they ended up with four drones and San Diego Equine Rescue came out on horseback.
“We went down to the KOA at Vail Lake because in my mind these zebras are following water,” Fuller said. “She’s 10 miles that way anyways already down in the creek beds; we did get one real sighting so we knew she was headed to Vail Lake.”
Fuller divided everyone up to go out and search in different directions.
“At the end of Monday, our last two places that we stopped to talk to people I literally stood on the peak of the vista right there and was barking for them with my best zebra bark,” Fuller said, laughing.
Fuller had returned to her home in Riverside when she received a call from her boss that some people had spotted them.
Fuller called in to her staff and asked that they grab a big bucket of water and place it 10-20 feet inside. She told them to throw two flakes of alfalfa and wait to see if she came home.
After a lot of searching, the zebras returned back home.
“Wouldn’t you know it – the next morning she was standing outside of her pasture waiting to go in for breakfast,” Fuller said.
Fuller was grateful for the community’s support.
“Everybody in the community came out,” she said.
And the zebra who spearheaded the adventure?
“She just took freedom by the reins and ran with it,” Fuller said.
Lexington Howe can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.