Quagga specimen on display at the The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich

One benefit of reading, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, is learning new things. This week I learned about an extinct animal, the quagga. Amber picked up a bunch of animal books at the library last week, one of which was The Quagga by Tamara Green, part of the Extinct Species Collection. I had never heard of this subspecies of zebra before, but apparently it lived in the grasslands of  southern Africa up until the late 1870s. I learned a lot from the book and from doing some quick research on-line.

The quagga had stripes like a zebra on it’s head and neck, but a little way down it’s back, the stripes fade into a solid brown color. It was an herbivore, horselike in many ways, with slim hooved legs and good hearing. Quaggas could be trained and were used by farmers as guard dogs to protect their livestock. They were brought to England in the 1820s, where they were taught to pull carriages and also displayed in zoos.

As with so many animals, the quagga was lost due to hunting. Farmers used the meat to feed their servants and the hide was tough and lightweight, perfect for making bags and sacks. The last wild quagga was probably shot in the late 1870s, and the last specimen in captivity, a mare, died on August 12, 1883 at the Natura Artis Magistra Zoo in Amsterdam. Books about extinct animals always give us the opportunity to talk about how humans’ actions effect other animals and the environment, for better or worse, and how we can help preserve endangered animals today.

The Quagga Project was started in 1987 to attempt to bring back this beautiful, unique animal. By selective breeding from a population of southern Plains Zebras an attempt is being made to retrieve at least the genes responsible for the Quagga’s characteristic striping pattern. “The project is aimed at rectifying a tragic mistake made over a hundred years ago through greed and short sightedness. It is hoped that if this revival is successful, in due course herds showing the phenotype of the original quagga will again roam the plains of the Karoo.”

I was amazed to see how much these new “quaggas” do look like the depictions and preserved specimens of the originals. I don’t know if looking like them counts as bringing them back, but it does add a variety back to the African animals that has been missing for over a hundred years. I guess this “breeding back” is controversial; just because an animal looks like an extinct one does not mean it acts the same or fills the ecological niche. And to be honest, I like them- they’re pretty.

The Quagga by Tamara Green, illustrated by Tony Gibbons

Suggested reading level: Grades 2-4

The Extinct Species Collection
24 pages
First published July 1, 1996

Purchase through Amazon.

We borrowed our copy from the library and the above is my honest opinion.


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