Back from Extinction

A breeding programme is under way in South Africa to bring back a species that went/became extinct in the 19th century. The quagga was a species of zebra that occurred in the southern parts of Africa but became extinct after severe hunting by the colonialists. The quagga only had stripes on its head and neck and the body colouring was brown.

Extinction is not forever

Previously thought to be a separate species of zebra, it was only recently discovered that the quagga was a sub-species of the plains zebra. DNA studies done from museum specimens revealed the link between the two. A decision was made to attempt to bring the quagga back by breeding selected plains zebra from various parts of the sub-continent.

Suitable individuals were selected from Etosha National Park, Kruger National Park and parks in Kwazulu Natal and Swaziland. The individuals were selected according to the markings – those that showed stripe reduction.

There are now eleven breeding localities situated around the Western Cape making up over eighty individuals. The programme has proved to be a great success with the latest birth in 2006 almost lacking in body striping.

The colder south

The body coat of the quagga was brown indicating a link between brown and southern climes. An interesting question is why the northern members of the plains zebra have no shadow stripes in the white and why the southern members have the shadow stripes in varying degrees.

Could it be that the southern ranges are colder and that the brown shadow stripes are/were a means of retaining more heat? East Africa lies on the equator ensuring a moderate climate year round so the animals do not have to retain heat.

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