Only in South Africa — the Quagga

Updated on August 12, 2018
Jana Louise Smit profile image

Born and raised in South Africa, Jana loves sharing the unique and special aspects about her home turf with the world.

A Species that Came Twice

The Quagga was a species of zebra, certainly, but what made it so gorgeous was its looks. Unlike the black and white patterns that wrap around the bodies and legs of zebras today, the Quagga's hindquarters was stripe-free. Lines were more a case of white stripes on a brown hide and the earthy colour also tinted the mane, tail and body. For centuries, it was officially considered extinct but a chance discovery and a dedicated breeding program recreated a herd of what might very well be true Quagga.

A short History Lesson

Large numbers of Quagga once roamed as the most southern species of zebra in Africa. Unfortunately, with the arrival of the first European farmers in the nineteenth century, so did the Quagga's marching orders. The farmers viewed the herds as vermin that used grazing land “meant” for livestock and hunted the zebras relentlessly. Those that didn't die during the years of wholesale slaughter were captured and packed off to European zoos. One Quagga arrived at the Amsterdam zoo and eventually died on 12 August 1883. It took another three years before the hunting of the species was banned but when none turned up anywhere, reality hit – the Amsterdam mare had been the last Quagga alive in the world. The species was subsequently declared extinct.

London Zoo Photo

One of the last  zoo Quaggas to be photographed. Pictures of living animals are very rare.
One of the last zoo Quaggas to be photographed. Pictures of living animals are very rare. | Source

The Stuffed Foal

One might never know how she died, but a young filly became one of only 23 mounted Quagga specimens. Today, she stands in a glass case at the South African Museum. A little scruffy looking, this foal could be the saviour of her species.

In 1969, natural historian Reinhold Rau was given the task of remounting the foal. She had been done rather badly the first time and the museum wanted to spruce up the display. During the process, Rau discovered something that would turn the story of the Quagga around. Attached to her pelt, were pieces of flesh. Rau preserved the tissue and in 1983, a man called Russell Higuchi took a renewed interest in the samples. He was from the University of California and was responsible for making the foal the first extinct animal to have its DNA analyzed.

A Surprise Subspecies

In the years before the DNA study was done, it was believed that the Quagga was a distinct species of zebra. However, when the results came in, so did a big surprise. The Quagga was a subspecies of today's Plains Zebra. As a matter of fact, the DNA of the Quagga and the Plains Zebra are identical. The only difference was the coat colour. It didn't take long before someone said something along the lines of “Hey, if both are identical, then we can turn the Plains Zebra into a Quagga.”

Breeding Program and a new Foal

When Reinhold Rau, the man who discovered the foal's pieces of flesh, heard about this, he decided to start a breeding program to bring back the Quagga. He called it the Quagga Project. Rau began in 1987, capturing nine Plains Zebra at the Etosha National Park in Namibia and also, from parks in Kwazulu Natal, in South Africa. Together, they formed a tiny herd but each had something special – they all resembled their extinct cousin in some small way.

The “founding” members were rehomed in a number of public and private reserves as well as national parks. However, they all remained in the Western Cape. Over three decades later, the project is still going strong and at the twentieth generation of selectively bred animals. Several show reduced striping of the hindquarters and one recent foal is said to be the spitting image of the Quagga.

Plains Zebra

This species is also known as the common or Burchell's Zebra.
This species is also known as the common or Burchell's Zebra. | Source

Official Status

Whether the Quagga is truly a revived extinct species is a thorny question. For some, the identical DNA shared with the Plains Zebra is proof enough that its back, along with the Quagga Project specimens clearly showing the return of the unique colouring. However, even Rau advised that caution must be taken before deciding either way. As DNA tests become more advanced, it may still show a difference between the species that couldn't be detected in the 1980s. This is highly possible since the Quagga's genome (the entire genetic code) is not known. Despite that the animals now grazing the African plains look like Quaggas and have DNA like Quaggas, they may very well not be them. Until better tests can solve the mystery, the Quagga is — in some weird way — both extinct and alive.

Did You Know?

  • Not every zebra born in the Quagga Project show the desired qualities for the next generation. These animals are homed in national parks, especially in the Eastern Cape's Addo Elephant National Park where visitors can view the oddly-striped zebras
  • The word “quagga” comes from the Khoikhoi language for zebra
  • Similar to zebras today, every Quagga's stripes was as unique as a fingerprint
  • The rarest species alive today is the Grevy's Zebra and is believed to be the first zebra species to appear – around four million years ago
  • Different species don't interbreed in the wild and when the Grevy's Zebra was artificially crossed with others, most pregnancies miscarried

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jana Louise Smit

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Jana Louise Smit profile imageAUTHOR

        Jana Louise Smit 

        10 months ago from South Africa

        Thanks for your great comment! Appreciate the feedback. :)

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        10 months ago from the short journey

        So interesting on several layers. This different design of zebra is a beautiful animal. I often wonder what would happen if scientists said "what if" about the theory of evolution more often. The western cape project reminds a bit of Laban's efforts to cheat Jacob in that the proof God sustains His creation as He sees fit, that His timing is always perfect, and He truly is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent no matter what mere man says or does is proved time and again. Thanks for sharing about the Quagga's journey. Lots of food for thought here!

      • Jana Louise Smit profile imageAUTHOR

        Jana Louise Smit 

        10 months ago from South Africa

        They really are, you're so right. :)

      • Guckenberger profile image

        Alexander James Guckenberger 

        10 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

        The Quagga is beautiful.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)