Monday, January 11, 2010


Right away, you are probably wondering two things:  (1) "What is a quagga?" and (2) "Why should I care?"  Well, luckily, I can answer both of these questions.  Or at least question number 1.  But before I do that, I have to say thank you to my good basenji friend Zest, Superstar-in-Training, for telling me about the quagga and suggesting that I write about them.

So here goes.  The quagga is a kind of zebra that is now extinct.  It's what you call a subspecies of zebra, and its scientific name is Equus quagga quagga.  The way that quagga are different from regular zebras is that they are more brownish instead of black-and-white.  Also they have lots of stripes on the front half of their bodies, and then the stripes kind of peter out as you go back toward their hind ends until there are no stripes at all.  Oh, and they have white legs.

The name quagga is very funny-sounding and fun to say.  The quagga got their name from the native Hottentot people, whose name is also very funny-sounding.  The Hottentots knew that "kwa-ha" was the sound that zebras made, and so that seemed like a good name for them.

The Hottentots tamed the quagga and kept them around like sort of watchdogs.  Except that quagga couldn't be totally tamed because they were very high-strung, and you never quite knew what they would do, especially a boy quagga, who might have a sudden burst of extreme energy.

Anyway, when the white people came to South Africa, which is where the quagga lived, they started hunting them so they could eat them and also because they liked quagga skins.  Plus they did not want the quagga eating grass and stuff that their sheep and cows could be eating.  So before long, all the quagga were gone from South Africa.

A few quagga lived in zoos in Europe, but then they got old and died.  The very last quagga mare died on August 12, 1883, in a zoo in Amsterdam.  There is only one photo of a real, live quagga, and it was taken in 1870 in London.  People didn't try to save the quagga because they didn't realize that this animal was a separate subspecies of the plains zebra.

I'm very sorry to have to tell you this sad story about the quagga.  And I guess the answer to question number 2 is that if we don't care about all the different kinds of animals, some of them are likely to die off and become extinct.  Then all we will have to look at will be stuffed examples of these animals in museums, like for instance, these stuffed quagga.

But now I will tell you the sort-of happy ending to this story, which is that people are trying to get the quagga back!  And the way they are doing this is by breeding zebras to try to make the quagga genes show up again.  No one knows if this is really possible, but there's a man in South Africa named Reinhold Rau who started this thing called the Quagga Project.  So far, he has made zebras in the 3rd and 4th generations that look something like pictures of quagga.

The one that looks most like a quagga is a baby named Henry.  This is the same name as our next-door neighbor, but our neighbor is not a quagga. He's a wheaten terrier.  Anyway, not everyone agrees about whether a zebra that looks like a quagga really is a quagga or not.  I don't know how they will decide the answer to this question, but maybe somebody will figure it out someday.


  1. Yea for the quaggas!

    your friend
    Zest, superstar in training

  2. Hi there, do you know who owns the copyright of the first picture of the quagga? As I would really like to use it.

    1. This is an old print, so it would be in the public domain and available for anybody to use. Here's the artist's info, which I should have included originally -- sorry! Quagga stallion of Louis XVI menagerie at Versailles painted by by Nicolas Marechal in 1793 (1753 -1802)