CLEVELAND, TENN. - Zeke the zebra has always preferred his own company.
"This zebra's kind of an individual, and he kind of wants to be by himself," said Ronald Price, Zeke's owner, who keeps a menagerie of animals, mostly for the pleasure of looking at them.
He's had Zeke for about six months. But for the last three months, Zeke has been a zebra about town, after escaping one day when a gate was left open.
Zeke's getting his moment in the media spotlight -- even, Price noted, amidst the buzz surrounding Cleveland Police Chief Wes Snyder's sudden retirement last week. Zeke's been all over the news and Internet. Price said folks have started calling to say they spotted Zeke and will try to catch him. He's driving all over south Cleveland to follow up on leads.
"We know where he's at, we just can't catch him," he said Friday.
In the eyes of the law in Tennessee, Zeke is just like a horse -- legally classified as equine livestock.
That makes it even better news that no one is mad about Zeke's three-month walkabout.
Under Tennessee law, Price is legally liable for keeping Zeek confined. And he is also strictly liable for recapturing the animal and for any damages Zeke does while sowing -- or eating -- his wild oats.
"It's first and foremost the responsibility of the owner," said Tom Womack, director of public affairs for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
State agents typically only get involved in livestock cases if an animal poses a risk to public health, he said.
But so far, Price said, Zeke is just hanging out in the woods, not causing trouble. Maybe Price's llamas and the camel got on Zeke's last nerve.
"All I know is [Zeke's] been spotted several times," said Bob Gault, spokesman for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
Dispatchers have taken calls about Zeke sightings seriously.
"Zebras are easy to identify," he said. "It's not something you can mistake."
Price doesn't think anyone will hold Zeke's antics against him or want to press charges.
"He's just enjoying life," he said. "He's kind of like Bigfoot. People will sight him here and there, and then he's gone."
In his 50-plus years of farming, Price hasn't seen anything quite like it. This is not something his camel or llamas or reindeer or horses or cattle or mules or donkey or sheep would do. They actually like one another and get along, he said.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6731.