Above Image: The Quahkah (Quagga) Aquatinta by Samuel Daniell (1775-1811) from the Series African scenery and animals. Image Credit: Smithsonian Institution Libraries Source: Wikimedia Commons; Sourced for this blog in 09/2013. Image is available because it is in the public domain.
The quagga is a subspecies of the plains zebra that once lived in the southern most part of Africa. The front half of the quagga had brown stripes and the back half was a solid brown.
The quagga became extinct in the late 1800’s with the last captive individual dying in 1883. The last known individual died in the wild in 1878. Not much is known, for sure, about the behavior of the quagga because all zebra were referred to as quagga, so it is hard to tell the difference between the two in descriptive text written before the population quietly dwindled down to nothing.
Above Image: Mare, London, Regent’s Park ZOO 1870. Image Credit: Frederick York (d. 1903) Source: Wikimedia Commons; Sourced for this blog in 09/2013. Image is available because it is in the public domain.
According to A rapid loss of stripes: the evolutionary history of the extinct quagga, the first two genetic analyses ever performed on an extinct animal, in 1984, suggested that the quagga was genetically similar to the plains zebras, but not all of the other species of zebra were included in the comparison and no one knew the genetic diversity of the quagga, itself. Some studies show that the quagga is as different from the plains zebra as the mountain zebra is, but others show the plains zebra to be quite similar to the quagga.
The scientists obtained genetic material from 13 quagga specimens in museums so they could determine the amount of genetic diversity present in the quagga. They got the DNA from skin, tooth or bone fragments, and the results indicate that the quagga derived from the plains zebras about 120,000-290,000 years ago, but can not determine whether they are a separate species entirely or if they are a subspecies of the plains zebra.
The Quagga Project was started in 1987 by Reinhold Rau, and is still maintained by a dedicated group hoping to “bring the quagga back” by selective breeding. He chose specific individuals from the southern plains zebras and breed them to have less stripes on the back. They will consider this a success when the zebras posses no stripes whatsoever on the backside, the legs or the belly, and the subspecies will then be referred to as the Rau zebras. Even though the experiment is not actually bringing the quagga back from extinction, it illustrates the human desire to correct something that went horribly wrong, even if it can’t literally be done.