Equus quagga quagga


Kingdom Animalia

The only Quagga to ever have been photographed alive was the Regent's Park Zoo mare in London. Five photographs are known, taken by Frederick York and Frank Haes in 1870. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to the United States, Canada, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Phylum Chordata 
Class Mammalia 
Order Perissodactyla
Family Equidae
Authority (Boddaert, 1785)
English Name Quagga, Cape Quagga
Dutch Name Quagga, Kaapse Quagga
French Name Zèbre Couagga, Couagga, Quagga
German Name Quagga
Spanish Name Cuagga, Quagga
African Name Kwagga
Swedish Name Kvagga
Synonyms Equus quagga Boddaert, 1785; Equus quagga Gmelin, 1788; Equus burchellii burchellii var. quagga Gmelin, 1788; Equus burchellii quagga Gmelin, 1788; Equus quagga quagga Gmelin, 1788.
Taxonomy There was some taxonomic debate over the correct specific name for the plains zebra. Research has now firmly established that the Extinct Quagga is a subspecies of the Plains Zebra (Rau 1978, Higuchi et al. 1984, George and Ryder 1986, Leonard et al. 2005). The scientific name of the Plains Zebra has been changed from Equus burchellii into Equus quagga. Groves and Bell (2004) recognized six subspecies of the Plains Zebra (Equus quagga), based on coat patterns, skull metrics, and the presence or absence of a mane and of the infundibulum on the lower incisors (intergrades are observed). A recent genetic study analysed 17 Plains Zebra populations, representing five of the six subspecies recognized by these authors (Lorenzen et al. 2008). The study found very little differentiation among populations. In fact, populations across the entire species distribution range were less differentiated than Namibian populations of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae). The five sampled Plains Zebra subspecies, which included the extinct Quagga, could not be distinguished with the genetic markers used and no genetic structuring was found indicative of distinct taxonomic units. The molecular data represented a genetic cline and was differentiated along an east-to-south gradient in agreement with the progressive increase in body size and reduction in stripes towards the south. This is consistent with the overlapping morphological parameters and geographical distribution of subspecies reported in literature. Hence, the subspecies splits based on the morphological cline may be arbitrary, but are useful from a management perspective. (Hack & Lorenzen, 2008)
Characteristics The Quagga was a southern subspecies of the plain zebra with withers of 1.30 meter. It differed from other zebras mainly in having been striped on the head, neck, and front portion of its body only, and having been brownish, rather than white, in its upper parts. The name Quagga has been adopted from the Hottentot speaking indigenous people of the South African interior. 'Quagga' is an imitation of the animal's call, which it shared with the other plain zebras.
Range & Habitat The Quagga lived in the drier parts of South Africa, on grassy plains. The northern limit seems to have been the Orange River in the west and the Vaal River in the east; the south-eastern border may have been the Great Kei River.
History & Population

Recent genetic research (2005) indicates that the quagga descended from a population of plains zebras that was isolated some time ago. It is estimated that this divergence took place in the Pleistocene, about 120.000 to 290.000 years ago. Therefore, the distinct coat colour of the quagga must have evolved quite rapidly. (Leonard et al. 2005) The quagga represents the extreme limit of a geographical gradient in colouration with progressive reduction in striping from north to south. The reduction in striped has been explained as an adaptation to open country.

The last free Quaggas may have been caught in 1870. Possible, a small population survived south of the Vaal river until about 1878, when there was a period of severe drought. The last captive Quagga, a mare, died on 12 August 1883 in Amsterdam Zoo, where she had lived since 9 May 1867. It was not realised that this Quagga mare 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. The mounted specimen of the very last quagga is now in the collection of the Zoological Museum Amsterdam (the Netherlands).

Extinction Causes The Quagga went extinct because it was ruthless hunted down for meat and leather by South African farmers, also were they seen by the settlers as competitors, like other wild grass eating animals, for of their livestock, mainly sheep and goats.
Conservation Attempts The term "Quagga" was generally used for any zebra. It was probably this confusion which prevented "last minute efforts" to save the Quagga from extinction. It was only realised years later that when the Quagga mare at the Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam died on the 12th August 1883, she was the last of her kind! The true Quagga vanished unnoticed, without conservation attempts.
Selective Breeding

In 1971, Reinhold Rau visited museums in Europe to examine most of the preserved Quagga specimens, after having dismantled and re-mounted the Quagga foal at the South African Museum in Cape Town in 1969/70. During this tour he discussed the feasibility of attempting to re-breed the Quagga with Dr. Th. Haltenorth, mammalogist, at Munich, Germany. Dr. Haltenorth saw merits in such a plan and expressed his surprise that such a programme had not already been started in South Africa.

Having critically examined twenty one of the twenty three preserved Quaggas, and being familiar with the high degree of variation in the plains zebra (Equus quagga) populations inhabiting the Etosha National Park in Namibia, the Kruger National Park, as well as parks in Zululand and Swaziland, Rau decided to work towards the implementation of a Quagga re-breeding programme. Contact was made in 1975 with zoologists and Park authorities, in the hope of stimulating interest in the project. Reactions to his proposals were on the whole negative, which was not surprising, considering that most English language scientific literature considered the Quagga as a separate species, a view, if correct, would render any attempt to re-breed the Quagga a futile exercise. However, Rau did not abandon his re-breeding proposal, as he considered the Quagga to be a subspecies of the plains zebra. The plan received new impetus in the 1980's by molecular studies that compared sequences of genetic code of Mitochondrial DNA extracted from tissue samples from a Quagga's skin. Comparison of these sequences with those of the plains zebra, demonstrated their close affinity, at least with reference to the sequenced genes, indicating that the Quagga was a subspecies of the plains zebra. 

Photo: Henry, the most quagga-like foal to date, born 20 January 2005. Photographed by March Turnbull. Courtesy by Reinhold Rau. Copyright © The Quagga Project. All rights reserved.

Then came another fortunate event. The retired veterinarian, Dr. J. F. Warning of Somerset West, contacted Rau during the latter part of 1985. He was an expert in animal husbandry and had been associated in horse and cattle breeding for more than 50 years in Germany and Namibia. He was a friend of Prof. Lutz Heck and had spent much time with him during the latter's stay in Namibia. Gradually a more positive attitude was taken towards the proposed Quagga re-breeding programme, as the DNA examination results appeared in publications from 1984 onward. Influential persons became involved and during March 1986 the project committee was formed. During March 1987 nine zebras, out of approximately two thousand five hundred, were selected and captured at the Etosha National Park. Their capture and arrival at the specially constructed breeding camp complex at the Nature Conservation farm 'Vrolijkheid', near Robertson, in the Cape, on 24th April 1987, marked the start of the Quagga re-breeding project. 

An important mile-stone in the 13 year history of the Quagga Project has been reached on the 29th June 2000. The Quagga Project Association, represented by its chairman Dr Mike Cluver and South African National Parks by its CEO Mavuso Msimang have signed a co-operation agreement. While active co-operation between the two bodies started with the translocation of the 14 Quagga Project zebras into the Karoo National Park during 1998, the now signed agreement changes the Quagga Project from a private initiative to an officially recognised and logistically supported project.

The selected plain zebra's had some Quagga characteristics, such as a brownish basic colour, much reduced striping, white tail-bush, etc. The aim of the Quagga project is to attempt to breed through selection a population of plains zebras, which in its external appearance, and possibly genetically as well, will be closer, if not identical to the former population known as 'Quagga'. These new 'Quaggas' will be reintroduced into reserves in its former habitat. For more information about this project, see www.quaggaproject.org

Museum Specimens

As far as we know there are now 23 mounted skins (including some possible hybrids with Burchell Zebras (E. q. burchelli), seven complete skeletons, 13 skulls, and various loose parts in scientific collections. Mounted Quagga skins and sometimes also/or skeletons and/or skulls can be found museums in Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Bamberg (Germany), Basel (Switzerland), Berlin (Germany), Cape Town (South Africa), Darmstadt (Germany), Edinburgh (Scotland), Exeter (England), Frankfurt (germany), Kazan (Russia), Leiden (the Netherlands), London (England), Lyon (France), Mainz (Germany), Milan (Italy), Munich (Germany), New Haven (USA), Paris (France), Philadelphia (USA), Pretoria (South Africa), Stockholm (Sweden), Stuttgart (Germany), Tübingen (Germany), Turin (Italy), Tring (England), Vienna (Austria), and Wiesbaden (Germany).  

Quagga-foal.jpg (132777 bytes) Quagga-london-GNU-CC.jpg (27975 bytes) Quagga-tring-GNU-CC.jpg (22480 bytes)
Berlin, Germany Cape Town, South Africa London, England Tring, England

Photo Berlin: Quagga in Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany. This quagga female lived in the Berlin Zoological Garden from 1863 until 1867. Courtesy by Alexander Lang. © Ausgerottete Arten. All rights reserved.

Photo Cape Town: the female quagga foal in the Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town, South Africa. Photographed by Saxsbiker on 17 April 2006. This image has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 2.5 Licence.

Photo London: the female Quagga specimen in The Natural History Museum (London, England). Courtesy by Sarah Hartwell. © Messybeast.com. All rights reserved. 

Photo Tring: the female Quagga specimen (with a zebra-horse hybrid foal in the same case) at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum (Tring, England). Courtesy by Sarah Hartwell. © Messybeast.com. All rights reserved. 

For more information you can visit The Quagga Project - Mounted skins of the Extinct Quagga and The Quagga Project – Quagga material in the world’s museums. Do you know more museum specimens? Please send me e-mail!

Relatives The other subspecies of the Plain Zebra (Equus quagga). The other subspecies (Groves & Bell, 2004) are: Equus quagga chapmani, Equus quagga crawshayi, Equus quagga boehmi, Equus quagga borensis, and Equus quagga burchelli. The completely maneless Somali population may represent a seventh subspecies: Equus quagga isabella (Ziccardi, 1958). This subspecies may be valid, but at present we have no evidence that it is. The Burchell's Zebra (Equus quagga burchelli) was previously seen as extinct. Groves and Bell (2004) revised the subspecies of Equus quagga. They conclude that "the extinct true Burchell's zebra" is a phantom. The subspecies Equus quagga burchelli still exists in Kwazulu-Natal and in Etosha: it is the geographically intervening population that is extinct, not a distinct subspecies as such. 

The Quagga Project. (best Quagga website!)

300 Pearls - Museum highlights of natural diversity. (English, French, Hungarian, Dutch)

The Quagga.  

Fun Zebra Pictures & Facts


Do you know more websites or have you more information about the Quagga?

Please send me e-mail!


Duncan, P. (ed.). 1992. Zebras, Asses, and Horses: an Action Plan for the Conservation of Wild Equids. IUCN/SSC Equid Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

George Jr.,M, and O.A. Ryder. 1986. Mitochondrial DNA evolution in the genus Equus. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 3: 535-546.

Groves, C. P., & Catherine H. Bell. 2004. New investigations on the taxonomy of the zebras genus Equus, subgenus Hippotigris. Mammalian Biology. 69: 182-196.

Hack, M.A & Lorenzen, E. 2008. Equus quagga. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 18 December 2008.

Higuchi et al. 1987. Mitochondrial DNA of the Extinct Quagga: Relatedness and Extent of Postmortem Change. Journal of Molecular Evolution 25:283-287.

Leonard, J. A., Rohland, N., Glabermann, S., Fleischer, R., Caccone, G. and Hofreiter, M. (2005) A rapid loss of stripes: the evolutionary origin of the extinct quagga. Biology Letters , 1 (3), 291-295. [pdf]

Lorenzen, E.D., Arctander P., and Siegismund H.R. 2008. High variation and very low differentiation in wide ranging plains zebra (Equus quagga): insights from mtDNA and microsatellites. Molecular ecology 17 (12): 2812-24.

Rau, R.E. 1974. Revised list of the preserved material of the extinct Cape Colony Quagga, Equus quagga quagga (Gmelin). Annals of the South African Museum, 65, 41–86.

Rau, R.E. 1978. Additions to the revised list of preserved material of the extinct Cape Colony Quagga and notes on the relationship and distribution of southern Plains Zebras. Annals of the South African Museum, 77, 27–45.

Last updated: 18th December 2008.

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