Quagga: The Lost Zebra | Science | Smithsonian
Current Issue
November 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Quagga: The Lost Zebra

In South Africa, quaggas were hunted to extinction in the late 1800s

smithsonian.com



Name: Quagga ( Equus quagga quagga)

Description: A type of zebra from South Africa whose stripes faded below the neck. Once thought to be a separate species, scientists who have performed DNA analyses on zebras now say that the quagga is a subspecies of the plains zebra.

Why the Quagga is "Lost": Large scale hunting in South Africa in the 1800s exterminated many animals, and quaggas were hunted to extinction in the late 1800s. They were valuable for their meat and hides, and people wanted to preserve the vegetation quaggas fed on for domesticated livestock. In addition, few people realized that the quagga was distinct from other zebras and needed protection. The last wild quagga was probably killed in the 1870s, and the last captive quagga died in an Amsterdam zoo on August 12, 1883.

But Perhaps Not Gone Forever: Reinhold Rau, a taxidermist in South Africa, conceived the Quagga Project in the 1980s, speculating that selective breeding of modern-day zebras could re-establish the quagga. He gathered scientists and enthusiasts to begin breeding zebras to bring about six distinct characteristics:

• Decreased body stripes

• Body stripes not extending to the ventral midline

• A chestnut basic colour on unstripped, upper parts of the body

• Unstriped legs

• Unstriped tail

• Reddish muzzle

After nearly two and a half decades, the project has produced a number of foals that have striped heads but pale or no stripes on their rumps (see the project's latest report (PDF) for pictures). The project aims to have 500 quagga-like zebras by 2020 and establish three free-ranging populations of at least 100 animals each.
Tags
About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus