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DVD Smith
1284040.  Mon May 14, 2018 9:58 am Reply with quote

[Cross-post from the Q Series forum.]

The quagga is a now-extinct subspecies of African zebra, half-covered in stripes, that barked like a dog. In 1886, South Africa issued a ban on hunting quaggas in the region - three years after the animal had already gone extinct.

The quagga’s bark, "qua-ha-ha", is what gave the animal its name – the ‘gg’ in “quagga” is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in “loch”. [1]

In the first description of a quagga, from George Edwards’s Gleanings of Natural History in 1758, he says: ”the noise it made was much different from that of an ass, resembling more the confused barking of a mastiff dog”. [2] Similarly, R.I. Pocock describes in 1910’s Harmsworth Natural History: ”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.” [3]

Quaggas roamed the plains of South Africa, and were such a popular target for hunters that in 1886, South Africa (then known as the Cape Colony) introduced “The 1886 Cape Act for the Preservation of Game”, which among other things banned the hunting of quaggas in the region. Unfortunately, the quagga had already gone extinct three years earlier, with the last of the species dying in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883. The last wild quagga died in the Cape in 1878, a full eight years before the quagga hunting ban was introduced. [4]

In the early part of the 19th century, the quaggas were considered very easy to domesticate, moreso than other zebras, and the ones imported to London were sometimes used to pull carriages. A man named Sheriff Parkins was known around London for using two quaggas to drive his carriage. [5]

There are many paintings of quaggas, but only one live quagga was ever photographed – a female at London Zoo in 1870. She was part of London Zoo’s only attempt at a quagga breeding programme, which ended abruptly in 1860 when the male beat himself to death against the wall of his enclosure. [3] [6]

Five photographs in total were taken of her, one of which was taken using one of the first-ever 3D cameras, a stereoscope. When she died in 1872, her skin was put on display at the Royal Museum of Scotland, while her skeleton was bought by an American called Othniel Charles Marsh for £10, and is now on display at Yale University. [7] (Marsh is a fascinating character – he was a 19th century palaeontologist who was part of a vicious fossil-collecting rivalry called the Bone Wars.)

There are currently 23 known stuffed/mounted quaggas on display around the world. There used to be 24, but the 24th was housed in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad in Russia), and was destroyed during World War II. (This NYT article says that the 24th was destroyed when drunken Russian soldiers threw it out of a window – I desperately want this to be true but sadly I cannot find any other source that makes that claim.)

In the 1970s, a German taxidermist named Reinhold Rau set about studying the stuffed quaggas and decided he wanted to try and resurrect the animal using tissue samples taken from one of the stuffed quagga bodies. He sent the tissue samples to a lab in California, and in 1984 the quagga became the first extinct animal to have its DNA extracted, replicated and analysed. [8] This became front-page news around the world, and came to the attention of Michael Crichton, who mentions the feat in his novels Jurassic Park and The Lost World as one of the characters’ inspirations in their attempt to clone dinosaurs. [4] [9]

The DNA extraction confirmed that the quagga was a subspecies of zebra and not a species of its own, and so in 1987 Rau started the Quagga Project, a programme with the aim of selectively breeding plains zebras to produce offspring that have the quagga’s unique fading stripe pattern. The project is now in its 5th and 6th generation of zebra, and as of 2016 six foals with the quagga-like stripes have been successfully raised. [10]


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