The Quagga, which is an extinct subspecies of plains zebra, inhabited South Africa until the late 19th century. Earlier, it was thought to be a wholly different species. However, in 1980, molecular studies of mitochondrial DNA of this animal suggested that the Quagga was the southernmost subspecies of the plains zebra.
|Subspecies||E. q. quagga|
|Scientific name||Equus quagga quagga|
|Size||Length – 250 to 260 cmsShoulder Height – 120 to 135 cms|
|Weight||480 to 720 pounds|
|Lifespan||Around 40 years in the wild|
|Diet||Primarily of grasses|
|Gestation||12 to 13 months|
|Habitat||Temperate and arid grasslands|
|Predators||Lions, wild dogs, hyenas, leopards and cheetahs.|
|Closest Relative||Burchell’s zebra|
|Calls||“oug-ga,” “kwahaah,” and “kwa-ha-ha”|
Their color and limited stripe patterns distinguished them from other Zebra subspecies. The frontal part of their body had dark stripes while the rear part was brown with no stripes offering a more horse-like appearance. The shape and patterns of their stripes varied in individuals. There were no stripes on their legs.
They were once found in Karoo (Cape Province) and the southern part of the Free State in South Africa.
They were found in groups (known as harems) of 40 – 60 individuals led by a dominant male. The social bond among individuals in a harem was very strong. During the day, harems migrated to long grass pastures; while coming back to shorter grass areas at night. They are known to be more docile that the Burchell’s zebra.
Both males and females left their natal group when they reach reproductive maturity. Foals were born throughout the year. However, the peak season was early summer (southern hemisphere) – from January to December.
- The name “quagga” has derived from the Khoikhoi name for zebra. The name is still used to describe plains zebra.
- The last captive individual, a female, died at the Natura Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam on 12th August, 1883. She lived there from 6th May, 1867.
- Twenty-three mounted and stuffed Quagga specimens are preserved in museums across the world. Another mounted specimen was destroyed during World War II in Königsberg, Germany.
- In 1984, Quagga was the very first extinct animal to get its DNA analyzed.
- A captive breeding project was started by Lord Morton in order to save this animal from extinction. He just had one male. In desperation, he bred the male with a female horse that produced a hybrid that carried zebra-like stripes on its back and legs. Lord Morton sold the mare that later bred with a black stallion producing an offspring that had zebra-like stripes.
Causes of Extinction
Overhunting is one of the biggest causes of its extinction. In the 19th century South Africa, many species, including Quagga, was killed in the name of sport. They were heavily hunted by the Dutch settlers. They were also hunted by the Afrikaners for their meat and skins (that was traded locally). Its limited distribution also made it vulnerable. The farmers saw them as a serious competitor to domestic livestock for forage. Quaggas were also captured and sent to zoos in Europe.
This subspecies disappeared from much of its native range by 1850s. In the late 1870s, the last wild population remained in Orange Free State. The last known wild specimen died in 1878. During this time, the name ‘quagga’ was used in Afrikaans to refer to all zebras. Researchers believe that this created some confusion and when it was recognized that they were different from other zebras, it was too late.
The Quagga Project is a selective breeding program of plains zebra that resemble the appearance Equus quagga quagga.
The project started in 1987 under the guidance of Reinhold Rau. To differentiate between the extinct Equus quagga quagga and the newly introduced Quagga lookalike stock, it has been suggested that the newly bred population would be called “Rau quaggas.”
The founding populations had nineteen zebras (captured from South Africa and Namibia) which had fewer stripes on its rear body and legs. The first foal was born in 1988. The target was to breed sufficient quagga-like stock and then release them in Western Cape.
The 3rd and 4th generation of “Rau quaggas” appear very much like the preserved specimens of the Quagga in museums. This type of reproduction, known as breeding back is quite controversial as it just produces specimens that resemble the outer appearance. The researchers involved in this project are reportedly trying to retrieve the genes (believed to be still present among living Plains Zebra populations) that is responsible for the brown color of the extinct animal.
Equus quagga quagga cannot be cloned (as there are no live cells). The only genetic material available to the scientists is portions of the mitochondrial DNA.