updated 1/12/2011 7:35:00 PM ET 2011-01-13T00:35:00

Three zebras that escaped from the Hearst Ranch in California were shot to death by neighboring ranchers who claim the exotic animals were threatening their horses and cattle.

The animals are descendants of zebras brought to the San Simeon estate of William Randolph Hearst in 1923 as part of the publisher's private zoo. About 80 zebras currently wander the property around Hearst Castle, and three escaped last week.

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Green Valley Cattle Co. owner David Fiscalini said he shot two of the zebras because they were chasing seven horses on his property about 10 miles from the Hearst Ranch. The third zebra was shot by another neighbor after it got into a herd of cows.

After shooting the animals, Fiscalini took them to a taxidermist to have their hides tanned, he told the San Luis Obispo Tribune. He didn't want to waste the hides, he said.

William Randolph Hearst's great-grandson, Steve Hearst, said the ranchers should have called the Hearst Ranch to report the runaway zebras.

"Neighbors are usually there to help their neighbors, not shoot their zebras," Hearst said. "It's a shame they took that action."

But Fiscalini said there wasn't time to call. It's branding time on his ranch, and replacing a horse that might have been injured in a clash with the zebras would have cost him tens of thousands of dollars, he explained.

"These zebras have no respect for fences. They tear fences down and go right through them," Fiscalini said.

Hearst said: "They have some respect for a fence. But if they want to move, they'll hop the fence."

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The zebras weren't trying to hurt the horses, but they were spooking them, so he had the right to shoot them, Fiscalini said.

A spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game did not immediately return a telephone message.

Zebras are not considered endangered or threatened animals.

The Hearst animal collection was once considered the largest private zoo in the world. It was dispersed beginning in 1937. The only animals left on the ranch's 82,000 acres (33,200 hectares) are the zebras, a few sheep and some goats.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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