THE QUAGGA

The Quagga was a close relative of horses and zebras. It was a yellowish-brown zebra with stripes only on its head, neck and shoulders and with pale legs. The quagga was native to desert areas of the African continent until it was exterminated in the wild in the 1870s. The last captive quaggas died in Europe in the 1880's. Zoos sent the request "send more quaggas", but there were no more quaggas left alive. It had been ruthlessly hunted for meat and leather by South African farmers and settlers. When first discovered, the Quagga was simply regarded as one zebra among many and was originally considered to be the female of the Burchell Zebra as the ranges of the species overlapped and there may have been interbreeding. The Hottentots used the same name for both animals. Because the term "quagga" was used indiscriminately to mean any zebra (although "Bontequagga" was sometimes used for the Plains zebra), the true quagga was hunted to extinction without this being realised until too late.

 

The Quagga was basically a brown zebra with white legs and tail. It had no distinct markings on its hind quarters and only vague mottled markings on its back. In conformation it was more horse-like than any of the other zebras which, except for the Burchells, are generally large-headed and donkey-like. Its mane was distinctive, being described by an early observer as "curious, appearing as if trimmed by art". In the wild, quaggas grazed in mixed herds with wildebeest or hartebeest and ostriches.

The colonizing Boers found it the most obvious source of food for their native servants and a source of hides for domestic use and export. Quaggas hides were sturdy and lightweight and many were still in everyday use long after the animal itself was extinct. Quagga were plentiful in the 1840s, but the eradication of the quagga only took around 30 years.

From Rev JG Wood’s “Illustrated Natural History” (1853, 1874): The QUAGGA looks at first sight like a cross between the common wild ass and the zebra, as it only partially possesses the characteristic zebra-stripes, and is decorated merely upon the hind and fore-parts of the body. The streaks are not so deep as they are in the zebra, and the remainder of the body is brown, with the exception of the abdomen, legs, and part of the tail, which are whitish-grey. The Quagga lives in large herds, and is much persecuted by the natives of Southern Africa, who pursue it for the sake of its skin and its flesh, both of which are in high estimation.

The quagga is considered to be a southern subspecies of the plain zebra found in the drier parts of South Africa, on grassy plains. Its northern limit was the Orange River in the west and the Vaal River in the east; its south-eastern border appears to have been the Great Kei River. The last free quaggas were probably those caught in 1870 although a small population may have survived south of the Vaal river until the severe drought of 1878. The last captive quagga was a mare; she died on 12 August 1883 in Amsterdam Zoo, having been exhibited there since 9 May 1867. It was not realised that this quagga mare was the very last of her kind. It could, even then, have been saved by breeding it to the white-legged, white-tailed Burchell's zebra, itself destined for extinction a few decades later.

The quagga's name comes from the Hottentot term for the creature, being an imitation of the zebra's"kwa-ha-ha" call. Tame quagga were used by the Hottentot as equine watchdogs. Although tamed by Hottentots, the quagga was an immensely energetic and highly-strung creature and the stallions were noted to be prone to fits of rage. London Zoo’s one chance of breeding quaggas in the 1860s ended when the stallion beat itself to death against the wall of its enclosure. In England in the 1830s, quaggas (probably gelded to make them tractable) were used as exotic harness animals. Sheriff Parkins drove around London seated behind a pair of harnessed quaggas. Burchell's zebras were also popular between the shafts, but quaggas were said to have better mouths. Recent examination of portions of mitochondrial DNA and protein in the 1980's indicate that the quagga was a subspecies of Burchell's plains zebra.

Photography was still in its early days and relied on the subject to make no sudden movements while the plate developed. The only living quagga photographed was the mare housed at London Zoo. She was photographed by Frederick York and Frank Haes in 1870. Four or five photographs exist and have widely reproduced. These are outnumbered by colour paintings (colour plates in naturalist's books, paintings of quaggas in private collections); the earliest paintings being based on descriptions and/or skins.

 

Burchell's Zebra was a subspecies of the Plains Zebra characterised by its unstriped legs and belly and its reddish brown body-stripes with paler "shadow stripes" in between on a cream or buff background colour. Its original range was mainly north of the Orange and Vaals Rivers, extending north into Botswana and the south-western Transvaal, and east to about Natal. It originally existed in vast herds, but by 1910 it was gone from the wild and the last known individual died in the Berlin Zoo in 1918.

Plains zebra are black and white with no shadow stripes, although individuals show some variation (sometimes attributed to throwbacks indicating interbreeding with quagga). Selective breeding of these throwbacks or variant individuals could bring back both the Burchell's race of Plains Zebra and the Quagga; this would involve capturing and breeding together Plains zebra that lack stripes on their hindquarters and legs. Some progress has already been made on this, producing individuals that lack stripes on their legs and rumps. However, will selective breeding really bring back the quagga or will it just produce something that resembles it?

 

There are 23 mounted specimens, 7 skeletons and 13 skulls in museums around the world. Quagga exhibits are held at Amsterdam and Lieden (the Netherlands), Bamberg, Berlin, Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Mainz, Munich, Stuttgart, Tübingen and Wiesbaden (Germany), Basel (Switzerland), Cape Town and Pretoria (South Africa), Edinburgh (Scotland), Kazan (Russia), Exeter London and Tring (England), Lyon and Paris (France), Milan and Turin (Italy), New Haven and Philadelphia (USA), Stockholm (Sweden) and Vienna (Austria). The variability of striping suggests that some mounted specimens may be quagga x Burchell's zebra hybrids; these possibly interbred naturally where their ranges overlapped or artificially in captivity.

R I Pocock, writing in Harmsworth Natural History (1910), classed Burchell's and Chapman's zebras as quaggas while the species known today as the quagga was called Grey's quagga. He described numerous subspecies of quagga, many of which were merely pattern variations within a species. Pocock wrote:

"The trivial and scientific designations of the quagga (Equus quagga) are derived from the name quaha" or ‘quacha," given to South African representatives of the species in imitation of their cry. It so happens that the first example to be made known to naturalists cane from the Cape flats and is now extinct; but striped equine animals with the same cry and the sane structural characters are now known to range through the whole of East Africa from Abyssinia to Zululand, and thence westwards to Southern Angola. Distributed over an area so vast and so varied in its physical features and exposed to widely different conditions of climate and temperature, the species exhibits marked local variations in colour and pattern, forming distinguishable geographical races or subspecies. The northern and eastern races so far south as Mashonaland are fully striped with black and white or pale fawn to the hoofs ; but southwards from Mashonaland occur races in which the stripes exhibit more and more marked signs of disappearance from the legs, belly, and hind quarters; those that formerly inhabited Cape Colony, to which the name quagga was first applied, showing in some cases hardly a trace of striping even on the posterior part of the body. These, as well as some of the decidedly striped more northern races, were known to the Dutch colonists, who, by way of emphasising the difference, spoke of the latter as bontequaggas; but when the relatively less striped races became extinct, the term bontequagga dropped out of use amongst the Dutch, who to this day comprehensively speak of all the South African races as quaggas; and since no competent authorities now doubt that these animals belong to the same species as the existing North African and the extinct South African races, the scientific and vernacular term "quagga" may be extended to the whole series.

In the fully striped races of this species the stripes on the body extend to the median ventral line, those on its anterior half behind the shoulder-stripe, four or five in number, being vertical, while the remainder turn sharply backwards dorsally, no fewer than four forming a bold sweep back on to the hind quarters, this last characteristic being the distinguishing feature of the pattern of the species ; the stripes on the thighs are broad and on the legs numerous and close set the spinal stripe is distinct and widens behind over the saddle and croup, where it is usually separated from the adjoining stripes of the body and quarters. Of these northern forms the best known is Böhm’s quagga (E. quagga boehmi) from British and German East Africa. Nearly allied to it are Jalla’s quagga (E. quagga jallae) from Southern Abyssinia; and Crawshay’s quagga (E. quagga crawshayi) from Southern Nyasaland. Related to the last is a quagga from North Eastern Rhodesia to which the name annectans has been given, a race characterised by the great breadth of the dark as compared with the light stripes. South of the Zambezi in Mashonaland occurs Selous’s quagga (F. quagga selousi), of the same general stamp as Böhm’s quagga. In the latter faint stripes called " shadow stripes " are sometimes observable between the principal stripes on the quarters. These are also present in Selous’s quagga; but in more southern forms they increase in distinctness and extent concomitantly with the disappearance of the stripes from the legs. Chapman’s quagga (F. quagga chapmanni), which ranges from Damaraland to the Transvaal, differs from Selous’s quagga in having the legs, below the knees and hocks, sparsely striped. The reduction of the leg stripes is carried still further in Wahlberg’s quagga (F. quagga wahlbergi), from Zululand, a race which is also distinguished by the great reduction in width of the principal stripes upon the hind quarters; by the distinctness of the shadow stripes on this region, and by their forward extension to the withers.

Still more different from the northern races is Burchell’s quagga (F. quagga burchelli), from Bechuanaland, in which the stripes have almost vanished over the hind quarters up to the root of the tail, and on the fore legs up to the shoulder, leaving the legs whitish and almost unstriped; the body stripes no longer reach the middle line of the belly, and the shadow stripes sometimes extend as far as the head. In some of these quaggas, too, the lighter areas are ochre brown, so that there is no longer the sharp contrast between the dark and light stripes seen in the northern types. The next stage in variation is reached by various races, all now extinct, which formerly ranged southwards from the Orange River Colony over Cape Colony to the flats round Cape Town. The typical quagga, of which only a coloured illustration is extant, was very like a dark-tinted Burchell’s quagga, except that the stripes over the croup were broken up into spots. In other races, as shown by mounted specimens, the obliteration of the pattern was carried still further, so that only the head, neck, and shoulders were distinctly marked; the tendency of the obliteration being to produce a nearly uniformly brownish, or in some cases chestnut, animal with pale legs. But even the few specimens of Cape Colony quaggas that have been preserved show practically a complete gradation from Burchell’s quagga to chestnut-tinted individuals with narrow dark stripes only on the head, neck, and shoulders.

Between eleven and twelve hands at the withers is the average height of quaggas. Adapted essentially for living in the plains, quaggas have broader hoofs than the mountain zebra and African asses; the ears are markedly smaller than in other African species of Equidae, and the callosities are intermediate in size between those of the mountain and Grévy’s zebras. The voice may be described as a ringing bark, comparable in shrillness to that of a small dog, and representable by the syllables "qua ha ha," "qua ha ha," rapidly repeated and sharply uttered, a cry quite unlike the neigh of a horse or the bray of an ass or of Grévy’s zebra. When South Africa was first colonised by Europeans, quaggas were exceedingly common on the flats and plateaus of Cape Colony, where they associated in troops, quite commonly mixed with ostriches, white-tailed gnus, and other antelopes. They were finally exterminated by the Boers in the Cape and Orange River Colonies; and the same fate is rapidly overtaking Burchell’s quagga of Bechuanaland, of which, as in the case of the Cape Colony races, only a few mounted specimens have been preserved, although a few may still be seen in various menageries of Europe and America.

Messybeast Rare & Extinct Creatures

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