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Zebras are painted that way

It's the truth. Zebras are painted that way. This is an excerpt from the wikipedia article on 'List of animals in the bible.'

Ass — The ass (male עַיִר ’ăyir, female אָתוֹן ’ăṯōn, wild פֶרֶא pere) has always enjoyed a marked favour above all other beasts of burden in the Bible. This is evidenced by more than one hundred and thirty mentions of this animal in Bible, and by the number of words in the Hebrew vocabulary used to designate the ass, by colour, sex, age, and so forth, in striking contrast with the ordinary penury of the sacred language. Of these various names the most common is חֲמוֹר (hamôr), "reddish", the hair of the eastern ass being generally of that colour. White asses, more rare, were also more appreciated and reserved for the use of the nobles (Judges 5:10). The custom was introduced very early, as it seems, and still prevails, to paint the most shapely and valuable donkeys in stripes of different colours.

Zebras having painted stripes is a huge meme in the media. It's a big inside joke that has been around a long time. The "elite" of times past were in on the joke.

If you research images of people riding a zebra, most of the images are from around the victorian era. Then they started lying and saying zebra were too dangerous / untamable to ride. Which is clearly a lie. They very frequently say their hoax animals are deadly or very dangerous. It's to keep people from looking into it closely, because they will be afraid.
I already mentioned how zebras being painted that way is a huge meme in the media, and even in real life. In Tiajuana Mexico, for instance, they do a really bad job at painting sad looking donkeys up as "zebra" and let tourists take pictures with them. The thing about zebras is... It's all about passing. If the zebra paint job is horrible, it wont 'pass'. If you do a good enough job painting up a horse, then it can 'pass' as a zebra. By the way, it's not just painting that goes into making a zebra, they also trim the mane, and use rare / exotic breeds of horses.
The most obvious tells that zebras are painted that way are the faded stripes, and the fact they often don't paint the area right above the nose.

faded stripes

un-painted noses

What about the smudgy/cracked paint?
Click any image for full size.

Fruit stripes is proud about being in on the secret.

Here's one with a belly painted in a very strange way that looks very unnatural, click for fullsize.

Here are some examples of people "joking" about it.