Quagga photo
Female quagga in London Zoo, 1870
Range Karoo of the former Cape Province and the southern part of the former Orange Free State in South Africa
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Perissodactyla
Family Equidae
Genus Equus
Species Equus quagga
Equus quagga quagga
Conservation Status
The Quagga (Equus quagga quagga), is an extinct subspecies of the Plains Zebra, which was once found in great numbers in the Karoo of the former Cape Province and the southern part of the former Orange Free State in South Africa.


The name "quagga" is derived from the Khoikhoi word for zebra and is onomatopoeic, being said to resemble the quagga's call.

The quagga was originally classified as an individual species, Equus quagga, in 1778. Over the next 200 years or so, many other zebras were described by naturalists and explorers. Because of the great variation in coat patterns (no two zebras are alike), taxonomists were left with a great number of described "species", and no easy way to tell which of these were true species, which were subspecies, and which were simply natural variants.

Because of the confusion between different zebra species, particularly among the general public, the quagga had become extinct before it was realized that it may have been a separate species.


In 1984, the Quagga was the first extinct animal to have its DNA studied. An immunological study published the following year confirmed these finds. A 1987 study suggested that the mtDNA of the Quagga diverged at a range of roughly 2% per every one million years, similar to othe rmammal species. A genetic study published in 2005 demonstrated that the Quagga was not a distinct species, but a subspecies of the Plains Zebra (Equus burchelli). It diverged from the other subspecies between 120,000 and 290,000 years ago. This suggests that it should be named Equus burchelli quagga; however, according to the rules of biological nomenclature, where there are two or more alternative names for a single species, the name first used takes priority. As the quagga was described about thirty years earlier than the Plains Zebra, it appears that the correct terms are E. quagga quagga for the quagga and E. quagga burchelli for the Plains Zebra, unless "Equus burchelli" is officially declared to be a nomen conservandum.

Biology and Ecology

The Quagga may have been 257 cm (8.43 ft) and stood 125–135 cm (4.10–4.43 ft). It had a distinctive coat pattern, with brown and white striping on the head and neck, brown upper parts and a white belly, tail and legs. However it appears to have had a high degree of polymorphism, with some individuals having no stripes and other having striping patterns similar to Burchell's Zebra. Living in the very southern end of the Plains Zebra's range, the Quagga possibly had a thick winter coat that moulted each year. Its skull was described as having a straight profile and a concave distema.

The Quagga was the southernmost disturbed plains zebra, mainly living south of the Orange River. It inhabited arid, open areas dominated by Acacia karroo. These areas were known for distinctive flora and fauna and high amounts of endemism. While the ranges of Plains Zebra subspecies generally do not overlap, the Quagga's was sympatic with Burchell's Zebra north of the Orange river. However, there is no evidence that they interbred in the wild. Quagga have been reported gathering into herds of 30–50 individuals and sometimes traveled in a linear fashion.

Decline and Extinction

The Quagga was hunted by early Dutch settlers and their descendants the Africaners, who thought the animals were easy to find and kill. Their meat was eaten and and their skins were traded or used locally. It is probable that the Quagga was vulnerable to extinction due to its limited distribution and may have competed with domestic livestock. Quaggas were extirpated from much of their range by the 1850s and the last wild individual died in 1878.

Individual Quagga were also captured and shipped to Europe where they were displayed in zoos. European found them to be more docile and tamable than other zebras and some local farmers even used them as guards for their livestock. Lord Morton tried to save the animal from extinction by starting a captive breeding program. However, he was only able to obtain a single male which, in desperation, he bred with a female horse. This produced a female hybrid which bore the zebra stripes on its back and legs. Lord Morton's mare was sold and subsequently was bred with a black stallion, resulting in offspring that again had zebra stripes. An account of this was published in 1820 by the Royal Society. The last captive quagga died in 1875 in Berlin and 1883 in Amsterdam.

"Breeding Back" Project

  • Main article: Quagga Project
1226 99 Animal Conservation Quagga Recreation in South Africa

1226 99 Animal Conservation Quagga Recreation in South Africa

2008 VOA report about the project

After the very close relationship between the Quagga and surviving zebras was discovered, the Quagga Project was started by Reinhold Rau (1932–2006) in South Africa to recreate the Quagga by selective breeding from plains zebra stock, with the eventual aim of reintroducing them to the wild. This type of selective breeding is also called breeding back. A foal of the Quagga Project, named Henry, was born on 20 January 2005. In early 2006, the third and fourth generation animals produced by the project were reported to look very much like the depictions and preserved specimens of the Quagga. The practice of breeding back generally, and specifically whether optic similarity alone are enough to declare that this project has truly recreated the original Quagga, are both controversial.

DNA from mounted specimens was successfully extracted in 1984, but the technology to use recovered DNA for breeding does not exist. In addition to skins such as the one held by the Natural History Museum in London, there are 23 known stuffed and mounted quagga throughout the world. A twenty-fourth specimen was destroyed in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia), during World War II.

In Culture

The Quagga has been depicted in cave art attributed to Bushmen. The only Quagga to have been photographed alive was a mare at the Zoological Society of London's Zoo in Regent's Park in 1870.

A Quagga appears in a sequence in the Soviet Union's animated film The Cat Who Walked by Herself, in which a dog tracks the hoofprints of one, and a cat tells a boy of the Red Book of endangered species, and how Quagga had "her track severed" (that is, made extinct) due to Man's selfish actions. The animal can be unlocked in the computer game Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals.

Quaggas have appeared in several books including The Mysterious Island, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer, Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel, King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard and the short story "King of the Beasts" by Philip José Farmer. A isQ one of the main characters in The Katurran Odyssey, a fantasy children's book by David Michael Wieger.

The Quagga is a monster that players face in the Unix game Rogue.

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