Ever heard of the Quagga?

The Quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is an extinct subspecies of plains zebra that lived in South Africa until the 19th century. It was long thought to be a distinct species, but genetic studies have shown it to be the southernmost subspecies of plains zebra. It is considered particularly close to Burchell’s zebra. Its name is derived from its call, which sounds like “kwa-ha-ha”.

European hunters who settled in the South African plains apparently found the Quagga to be quite desirable – perhaps for its uniqueness – and hunted the equine to extinction. The Daily Mail reports that the last known Quagga was shot and killed in 1883.

Now, scientists are aiming to bring it back. The Cape Town University scientists are running a breeding program specifically for the purpose of bringing the Quagga back. According to Daily Mail, “using selective breeding, scientists have bred animals that are almost genetically identical to the extinct species and are attempting to reintroduce them to its once natural habitat.” The breeding program, led by Cape Town University professor Eric Harley, began with testing Quagga skins that still remain in existence. It was discovered that the Quagga was a subspecies of the zebra. That information led Harley to hypothesize that “the genes which characterized the Quagga would still be present in the zebra,” CNN reports.

“The progress of the project has in fact followed that prediction. And in fact we have over the course of 4, 5 generations seen a progressive reduction in striping, and lately an increase in the brown background color showing that our original idea was in fact correct,” Harley told CNN.

There are currently 100 animals on the reserve as part of the project. However, only six are classified as Rau Quaggas, meaning these are the ones that are closest to the original Quagga. They were named after Reinhold Rau, an originator of the project. CNN reports that once that number reaches 50, the herd will live together on one reserve.

When the Quagga mare at Amsterdam Zoo died on 12 August 1883, it was not realised that she was the very last of her kind. Because of the confusion caused by the indiscriminate use of the term “Quagga” for any zebra, the true Quagga was hunted to extinction without this being realised until many years later and the Quagga Project is aimed at reversing this.
Source: The Quagga Project, Daily Mail and CNN