The Quagga (Wikimedia Commons).


Quagga (pronounced KWAH-gah, after its distinctive call); also known as Equus quagga quagga


Plains of South Africa

Historical Period:

Late Pleistocene-Modern (300,000-150 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About four feet high and 500 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Stripes on head and neck; modest size; brown posterior


About the Quagga

Of all the animals that have gone extinct over the past 500 million years, the Quagga has the distinction of being the first to have had its DNA analyzed, in 1984.

Modern science quickly dissipated 200 years of confusion: when it was first described by South African naturalists, in 1778, the Quagga was pegged as a species of genus Equus (which comprises horses, zebras and donkeys). However, its DNA, extracted from the hide of a preserved specimen, showed that the Quagga was actually a sub-species of the classic Plains Zebra, which diverged from the parent stock in Africa anywhere between 300,000 and 100,000 years ago, during the later Pleistocene epoch. (This shouldn't have come as a surprise, considering the zebra-like stripes that covered the Quagga's head and neck.)

Unfortunately, the Quagga was no match for the Boer settlers of South Africa, who prized this zebra offshoot for its meat and its coat (and hunted it just for sport as well). Those Quaggas that weren't shot and skinned were humiliated in other ways; some were used, more or less successfully, to herd sheep, and some were exported for display in foreign zoos (one well-known and much-photographed individual lived in the London Zoo in the mid-19th century).

A few Quaggas even wound up pulling carts full of tourists in early 19th century England, which much have quite been an adventure considering the Quagga's mean, skittish disposition (even today, zebras are not known for their gentle natures, which helps to explain why they were never domesticated like modern horses.)

The last living Quagga, a mare, died in full sight of the world, in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883. However, you may yet have the chance to see a living Quagga--or at least a modern "interpretation" of a living Quagga--thanks to the controversial scientific program known as de-extinction. In 1987, a South African naturalist hatched a plan to selectively "breed back" the Quagga from a population of plains zebras, specifically aiming to reproduce the Quagga's distinctive stripe pattern. Whether or not the resulting animals count as genuine Quaggas, or are technically only zebras that look superficially like Quaggas, will likely not matter to the tourists that (in a few years) will be able to glimpse these majestic beasts on the Western Cape. (See a slideshow of 10 Recently Extinct Horses.)

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Strauss, Bob. "Quagga." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/quagga-1093136. Strauss, Bob. (2017, March 3). Quagga. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/quagga-1093136 Strauss, Bob. "Quagga." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/quagga-1093136 (accessed January 24, 2018).