Spoiler Alert! Yes, the quagga’s last day on earth was August 12, 1883. Thanks to the magic of science, this story might have a happy ending one day.
Pronounced “kwa-ha,” the name is onomatopoeic, (meant to mimic the sound the animal made.)
The quagga lived in South Africa, in the Karoo of Cape Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State. They were closest to the Burchell zebra, but had stripes in front and not in back where its skin tapered to a plain brown or tan color.
The practical function of striping seems to be for protection of predators. One guess as to why the quagga lacked back end stripes was to help them recognize each other during mixed herd stampedes.
Roughly 8 feet long and 4 ½ feet tall at the shoulder, they were once travelled in of up to 50 members. Dutch settlers hunted them aggressively, presumably because they competed with their livestock for grazing land and because of their beautiful skins.
The last wild quagga were believed to be extinct in the wild by 1878.
Quaggas were highly spirited. They were used as harness animals that pulled carriages in London in the 1830s. Because of their volatile nature, farmers used them as guards that would attack intruders.
A few quagga had been taken to European zoos, but breeding programs were largely unsuccessful. The only living quagga to have been photographed was in the Zoological Society of London’s Zoo.
The last quagga held in captivity was a female in Amsterdam’s Natura Artis Magistra zoo. She lived there from May 9, 1867 until her death on August 12, 1883. At the time, people were unaware that she was the last living quagga due to the indiscriminate use of the word to refer to all zebra.
Here’s the final tally: 23 stuffed quagga; one mounted head and neck; one foot; seven complete skeletons; and a sampling of tissue.
The quagga was the first animal officially declared extinct to have its DNA analyzed. In 1984, researchers discovered that the quagga was closely related to the Burchell’s zebra.
Started by Reinhold Rau in 1987, the Quagga Project is dedicated to bringing back this animal from extinction through selective breeding from a group of 19 zebras with minimal striping on their legs and rumps. The project’s first quagga was born in 1988.
The plan is to eventually reintroduce the species into the reserves of its former habitat, possibly with the name “Rau-quagga.”
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