equus quagga


[kwag-uh, kwog-uh]

The quagga is an extinct subspecies of the Plains zebra, which was once found in great numbers in South Africa's Cape Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State. It was distinguished from other zebras by having the usual vivid marks on the front part of the body only. In the mid-section, the stripes faded and the dark, inter-stripe spaces became wider, and the rear parts were a plain brown. The name comes from a Khoikhoi word for zebra and is onomatopoeic, being said to resemble the quagga's call. The only quagga to ever have been photographed alive was the Regent's Park Zoo mare in London.


The quagga was originally classified as an individual species, Equus quagga, in 1788. Over the next fifty years or so, many other zebras were described by naturalists and explorers. Because of the great variation in coat patterns (no two zebras are alike), taxonomists were left with a great number of described "species", and no easy way to tell which of these were true species, which were subspecies, and which were simply natural variants.

Long before this confusion was sorted out, the quagga had been hunted to extinction for meat, hides, and to preserve feed for domesticated stock. The last wild quagga was probably shot in the late 1870s, and the last specimen in captivity, a mare, died on August 12, 1883 at the Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam. Because of the great confusion between different zebra species, particularly among the general public, the quagga had become extinct before it was realized that it appeared to be a separate species.

The quagga was the first extinct creature to have its DNA studied. Recent genetic research at the Smithsonian Institution has demonstrated that the quagga was in fact not a separate species at all, but diverged from the extremely variable plains zebra, Equus burchelli, between 120,000 and 290,000 years ago, and suggests that it should be named Equus burchelli quagga. However, according to the rules of biological nomenclature, where there are two or more alternative names for a single species, the name first used takes priority. As the quagga was described about thirty years earlier than the plains zebra, it appears that the correct terms are E. quagga quagga for the quagga and E. quagga burchelli for the plains zebra, unless "Equus burchelli" is officially declared to be a nomen conservandum.

After the very close relationship between the quagga and surviving zebras was discovered, the Quagga Project was started by Reinhold Rau in South Africa to recreate the quagga by selective breeding from plains zebra stock, with the eventual aim of reintroducing them to the wild. This type of breeding is also called breeding back. In early 2006, it was reported that the third and fourth generations of the project have produced animals which look very much like the depictions and preserved specimens of the quagga, though whether looks alone are enough to declare that this project has produced a true "re-creation" of the original quagga is controversial. DNA from mounted specimens was successfully extracted in 1984, but the technology to use recovered DNA for breeding does not yet exist. In addition to skins such as the one held by the Natural History Museum in London, there are 23 known stuffed and mounted quagga throughout the world. A twenty-fourth specimen was destroyed in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad), during World War II.

Quagga hybrids and similar animals

Zebras have been cross-bred to other equines such as donkeys and horses. There are modern animal farms which continue to do so. The offspring are known as zeedonks, zonkeys and zorses (the term for all such zebra hybrids is zebroid). Zebroids are often exhibited as curiosities although some are broken to harness or as riding animals. On January 20, 2005, Henry, a foal of the Quagga Project, was born. He most resembles the quagga.

There is a record of a quagga bred to a horse in the 1896 work Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle:

In the year 1815 Lord Morton put a male quagga to a young chestnut mare of seven-eighths Arabian blood, which had never before been bred from. The result was a female hybrid which resembled both parents.

In his 1859 The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin recalls seeing coloured drawings of zebra-donkey hybrids, and mentions "Lord Moreton's famous hybrid from a chesnut [sic] mare and male quagga..." Darwin mentioned this particular hybrid again in 1868 in The Variation Of Animals And Plants Under Domestication, and provides a citation to the journal in which Lord Morton first described the breeding.

Okapi markings are nearly the reverse of the quagga, with the forequarters being mostly plain and the hindquarters being heavily striped. However, the okapi is no relation of the quagga, horse, donkey, or zebra. Its closest taxonomic relative is the giraffe.

In popular culture

A quagga appears in a sequence in the Soviet Union's animated The Cat Who Walked by Herself, in which Dog tracks the hoofprints of one, and Cat tells the boy of the Red Book of endangered species, and how Quagga had "her track severed" (that is, made extinct) due to Man's selfish actions.

A Quagga is one of the main characters in The Katurran Odyssey, a fantasy children's book by David Michael Wieger.

Also the Quagga has had a part in the book Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, by author Eoin Colfer, where the protagonist, Artemis Fowl, is made to ride a Quagga in his attempts to flee the clutches of an evil pixie genius, Opal Koboi.

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