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Quagga .gif
A quagga mare in the London Zoo, circa 1870
Vital statistics
Scientific Name Quagga
Length 2 meters
Height 1.3 meters at the shoulder
Weight 200-300 kilograms
Diet Herbivorous
Lived 150,000 years ago to 1883
Range South Africa

The quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is an extinct subspecies of the plains zebra that lived in South Africa. It became extinct in 1883


As a subspecies of the plains zebra, the quagga was almost identical to modern individuals. In fact, the quagga and other subspecies often interbred, to the point where it was almost impossible to tell them apart.[1] However, most quaggas had a few significant differences from other zebras. For example, the quagga only had stripes its head and upper body, and its hindquarters were brown in color. It measured 2.5 meters in length and 1.3 meters at the shoulder[2]

Only one quagga was ever photographed alive, a mare at the London Zoo. It died in 1872.[3]


The quagga was originally classified as a distinct species of zebra (Equus quagga) in 1778.[4] The taxonomic history of the quagga is clouded for multiple reasons. There is a great deal of variation between zebras, even in the same subspecies,[5][6] and scientists at the time erected new species of equine solely from details of the animals' hide. Additionally, at one point all zebras were referred to by the name "quagga".

In 1984, the quagga was the first extinct animal to have its DNA analyzed. The genetic evidence proved that the quagga was a subspecies of the plains zebra.[7] Another genetic study in 2005 indicated that the quagga diverged from the plains zebra recently, no earlier than 290,000 years ago.[8]


A painting of a quagga stallion owned by Louis XVI

The quagga was hunted by natives and early Dutch settlers for their meat and skin. It had a limited distribution, and had to compete with domesticated animals for space. The last wild populations were exterminated by 1878.[9]

Some quaggas were captured and shipped to European zoos for display. George Douglas, the 1th Earl of Morton, launched a captive breeding program of the species, but was only able to acquire a single male. He bred it with a horse, resulting in a hybrid female foal. He went on to breed this hybrid with another horse, and their offspring also had zebra stripes. This led to new ideas about the now-outdated theory of telegony.[10]

The last known example of the quagga died in 1883 in Amsterdam.[11]

Quagga Project[]

When the relationship between plains zebras and the quagga was determined, the Quagga Project was formed in 1987 by Reinhold Rau. He aimed to recreate the quagga using selective breeding of zebras with quagga-like traits.[12] This type of selection is called "breeding back". The animals that have resulted from this project do look much like their extinct counterparts, but whether they can be considered true quaggas or simply quagga-like zebras is a matter of debate.


Little is known about the behavior of wild quaggas, as it is sometimes unclear what species of zebra is featured in contemporary reports. a definitive quagga account was provided by Major Sir William Cornwallis Harris in 1840:[1]

The geographical range of the quagga does not appear to extend to the northward of the river Vaal. The animal was formerly extremely common within the colony; but, vanishing before the strides of civilisation, is now to be found in very limited numbers and on the borders only. Beyond, on those sultry plains which are completely taken possession of by wild beasts, and may with strict propriety be termed the domains of savage nature, it occurs in interminable herds; and, although never intermixing with its more elegant congeners, it is almost invariably to be found ranging with the white-tailed gnu and with the ostrich, for the society of which bird especially it evinces the most singular predilection. Moving slowly across the profile of the ocean-like horizon, uttering a shrill, barking neigh, of which its name forms a correct imitation, long files of quaggas continually remind the early traveller of a rival caravan on its march. Bands of many hundreds are thus frequently seen doing their migration from the dreary and desolate plains of some portion of the interior, which has formed their secluded abode, seeking for those more luxuriant pastures where, during the summer months, various herbs thrust forth their leaves and flowers to form a green carpet, spangled with hues the most brilliant and diversified.

- Major Sir William Cornwallis Harris, 1840[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Groves, C. P.; Bell, C. H. (2004). "New investigations on the taxonomy of the zebras genus Equus, subgenus Hippotigris". Mammalian Biology - Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 69 (3): 182. doi:10.1078/1616-5047-00133.
  2. Nowak, R. M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World, Volume 1. John Hopkins University Press. pp. 1024–1025. ISBN 0-8018-5789-9.
  3. Huber, W. (1994). "Dokumentation der fünf bekannten Lebendaufnahmen vom Quagga, Equus quagga quagga Gmelin, 1788 (Mammalia, Perissodactyla, Equidae)". Spixiana (in German) 17: 193–199.
  4. Groves, C.; Grubb, P. (2011). Ungulate Taxonomy. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 16. ISBN 1-4214-0093-6.
  5. St. Leger, J. (1932). "LXVII.—On Equus quagga of South-western and Eastern Africa". Journal of Natural History Series 10 10 (60): 587–593. doi:10.1080/00222933208673614.
  6. Van Bruggen, A.C. (1959). "Illustrated notes on some extinct South African ungulates". South African Journal of Science 55: 197–200.
  7. Higuchi, R.; Bowman, B.; Freiberger, M.; Ryder, O. A.; Wilson, A. C. (1984). "DNA sequences from the quagga, an extinct member of the horse family". Nature 312 (5991): 282–284. doi:10.1038/312282a0. PMID 6504142.
  8. Hofreiter, M.; Caccone, A.; Fleischer, R. C.; Glaberman, S.; Rohland, N.; Leonard, J. A. (2005). "A rapid loss of stripes: The evolutionary history of the extinct quagga". Biology Letters 1 (3): 291–295. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2005.0323. PMC 1617154. PMID 17148190.
  9. Weddell, B. J. (2002). Conserving Living Natural Resources: In the Context of a Changing World. Cambridge University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-521-78812-9.
  10. Birkhead, T. R. (2003). A Brand New Bird: How Two Amateur Scientists Created the First Genetically Engineered Animal. Basic Books. p. 145. ISBN 0-465-00665-5.
  11. 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. ISSN 0303-2515.
  12. Heywood, Peter (2013). "The quagga and science: what does the future hold for this extinct zebra?". Perspectives in biology and medicine 56 (1): 53–64. doi:10.1353/pbm.2013.0008. PMID 23748526.
  13. Sir Cornwallis Harris, quoted in Duncan, F. M. (1913). Cassell's natural history. London: Cassell. pp. 350–351. Retrieved 22 June 2013.