The Quagga Project, bringing back the extinct

The Quagga Project is a sort of Jurassic Park in South Africa, but not quite.


The Quagga Project, started in 1987, is an attempt by a group of dedicated South Africans to bring back an animal from extinction and reintroduce to reserves in its former habitat. The last quagga died in captivity in 1883. At the time it was not known that she was the last remaining of her kind. By selective breeding from plains zebra stock the guagga project aimed to bring these animals back. The guagga was the first extinct animal to have its DNA analysed; taken from more than a dozen pelts.

What is a guagga? Originally thought to be a separate species we now know that it was a sub-species of the zebra. There are three main types of zebra: the Grévy’s, (Equus grevyi) aka ‘imperial zebra’ which is the largest and most endangered; the Plains Zebra, aka Burchells (Equus burchelli), the most common and wide-spread; and the Mountain zebra (Equus zebra), a threatened species of which the Quagga and the Cape mountain zebras are sub-species. The Burchells is the most well-known with strong black and white stripes; the Mountain is the smallest of all zebras and can be easily identified by a dewlap or fold of skin on its throat; the Guagga has no stripes on its hind-parts and legs.

Extinction is forever but, since the coat -pattern characteristics are the only criteria by which the Quagga is identified, re-bred animals that demonstrate these coat-pattern characteristics can justifiably be called Quaggas, according to the Quagga Project. By bringing selected individuals together, and so concentrating the Quagga genes, a population has emerged that is closer to the original Quagga population than any other extant Plains Zebra. I previously was under the impression that DNA was used to reproduce the guagga but research has taught me that it was selective breeding, which is not the same!

The location of the breeding was a secret for a few years until it was certain that the project was a success and that there were sufficient numbers of animals bred. Now they can be seen just outside the city of Cape Town in the Groote Schuur Estate on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. I have also seen some in the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park. Read more about the progress of this project since the first foal was born in 1988.

quagga project

Khumba – the 5th generation guagga, born in 2013

Zebra-Burchelli - Quagga project

Plains or Burchell’s zebras

grevys1 - quagga project

Grevy’s zebra

mountainzebra quagga project

Mountain zebra

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