The quagga is an extinct equine animal that once lived in South Africa. The front of the body of the quagga had white stripes, like a zebra, and the back was the color of a horse. This is the first and practically the only species (from extinct) that was tamed by people and used to protect herds, because the quagga was the first of all domestic animals to feel the arrival of predators and informed the owners with a loud shrill cry “kuaha”, which served as the name for the animal . The last quagga in the natural environment was killed in 1878.
Origin of the species and description
The quagga was the first extinct animal whose DNA was analyzed. Researchers have confirmed that the quagga is more closely related to zebras than it is to horses. Already 3-4 million years have passed when they had common ancestors with the mountain zebra. In addition, an immunological study showed that Quagga was closer to plains zebras.
In a study in 1987, scientists suggested that the quagga's mtDNA changed by about 2% every million years, similar to other mammalian species, and reaffirmed the close relationship with the plains zebra. A 1999 analysis of cranial measurements showed that the quagga was as different from the plains zebra as it was from the mountain zebra. 2004, showed that the quagga is not a separate species, but a subspecies of the plains zebra. Despite these findings, plains zebras and quaggs continued to be considered separate species. Although today it is considered a subspecies of the Burchell's zebra (E. quagga).
Genetic studies published in 2005 once again pointed to the subspecies status of the quagga. It was found that there is little genetic diversity in quaggas, and that differences in these animals appeared only between 125,000 — 290,000 years, during the Pleistocene. The distinct structure of the coat has changed due to geographical isolation, as well as adaptation to dry environments.
Also, the plains zebra subspecies tend to have less banding the farther south they live, with the quagga being the most southerly of all. Other large African ungulates have also split into separate species or subspecies due to climate change. Modern plains zebra populations may have originated from southern Africa, and the quagga has much more in common with neighboring populations than with the northern population living in northeastern Uganda. Zebras from Namibia seem to be the closest genetically to the quagga.
Appearance and Features
It is believed that the quagga was 257 cm long and 125–135 cm high at the shoulder. Her coat pattern was unique among zebras, looking like a zebra in the front and a horse in the back. She had brown and white stripes on her neck and head, a brownish upper body, and a light belly, legs, and tail. The stripes were most distinct on the head and neck, but gradually became weaker until they completely disappeared, blending with the brown-red coloration of the back and sides.
It appears that the animal had some parts of the body that were almost stripeless and other patterned parts reminiscent of the extinct Burchell's zebra, which had stripes on most of the body, except for the back, legs, and belly. The zebra had a broad, dark dorsal stripe on its back, which contained a mane with white and brownish stripes.
Fun Fact: There are five photographs of the quagga taken between 1863 and 1870. Based on photographs and written descriptions, it is assumed that the stripes were light on a dark background, which was different from other zebras. However, Reinhold Rau stated that this is an optical illusion, the main color — creamy white, and the stripes are thick and dark. Embryological evidence confirms that zebras were dark with white as a secondary color.
Living at the southernmost end of the zebra plains range, the quagga had a thick winter coat that shed each year. His skull was described as having a straight profile with a concave diastema with a narrow occiput. Morphological surveys in 2004 showed that the skeletal characteristics of the southern Burchell's zebra and the quagga are identical and that they cannot be distinguished. Today, some stuffed quaggas and Burchell's zebras are so similar that it is impossible to uniquely identify the specimens, as no location data has been recorded. The female specimens used in the study were on average larger than the males.
Where does the quagga live?
Native to southern Africa, the quagga was found in huge herds in the Karoo and southern Orange Free states. She was the southernmost plains zebra living south of the Orange River. It is a herbivore, limited to grasslands and arid inland woodlands that today form parts of the Northern, Western, Eastern Cape provinces. These places differed in comparison with other parts of Africa with unusual flora and fauna and the highest level of endemism among plants and animals.
Presumably the quaggas lived in the following countries:
- South Africa;
These animals were often found in dry and temperate grasslands, and sometimes in wetter grasslands. The geographic range of the quagga does not appear to have extended north of the Vaal River. Initially, the animal was extremely common throughout southern Africa, but gradually disappeared to the limits of civilization. In the end, it could be found in very limited numbers and only in remote areas, on those sultry plains where wild animals completely dominated.
Quaggas moved in herds, and although they never mingled with their more graceful relatives, they could be found in the neighborhood with the white-tailed wildebeest and ostrich. Small groups could often be seen migrating across the bleak, desolate plains that formed their solitary dwelling, in search of more lush pastures, where during the summer months they feasted on various herbs.
Now you know where the quagga animal lived. Let's see what he eats.
What did the quagga eat?
The quagga was more successful in choosing pastures than many of its relatives. Although they often competed with the more numerous wildebeest that lived in the same areas. The quaggs were the first herbivores to enter tall grasslands or wet pastures. They lived almost entirely on grasses, but occasionally ate bushes, twigs, leaves, and bark. Their digestive system allowed for a diet of plants of lower nutritional quality than other herbivores would need.
The flora of South Africa is the richest in the world. 10% of all the world's specimens grow there, which is more than 20,000 species. Surprising herbs, bushes, flowers (80%) are fragrant on vast territories, which are not found anywhere else. The flora of the Western Cape is the richest, where over 6,000 flowering plants grow.
Apparently, quaggs fed on such plants as:
- amaryllis ;
- Cape boxwood;
- heathers, which number more than 450 species, etc.
Previously, numerous herds of quaggs shook the space of the South African savannas with the clatter of hooves. Artiodactyls led a nomadic life, constantly moving in search of food. These herbivores often migrated, forming large herds.
Character and lifestyle features
Quaggas were very sociable creatures, forming large herds. The core of each group consisted of family members who lived with their natal herd throughout their lives. To gather the scattered members of the community, the dominant male of the group made a special sound, to which other members of the group responded. Sick or crippled individuals were cared for by all members of the group, who slowed down to match the slowest congener.
Each of these herds controlled a rather small area of 30 km². When migrating, they could cover long distances of more than 600 km². The quaggs were usually diurnal, spending their night hours in small pastures where they could spot predators. At night, the members of the group woke up one by one to graze for about an hour, without moving far from the group. In addition, they always had at least one herd member of the community who watched for potential threats while the group slept.
Interesting fact: Quaggas, like other zebras, had a daily hygiene ritual where individuals stood side by side, biting each other in hard-to-reach places such as the neck, mane and back, to rid each other of parasites.
The herds made regular trips from sleeping areas to pastures and back, stopping to drink water at noon. However, little information remains about the behavior of the quagga in the wild, and sometimes it is not clear which species of zebra is mentioned in old reports. It is known that quaggas gathered in herds of 30-50 pieces. There is no evidence that they interbred with other zebra species, but may have shared a small part of their range with the Hartmann mountain zebra.
Social structure and reproduction
These mammals had a polygamous harem-based mating system where one adult male controlled a group of females. To become the dominant stallion, the male had to alternately lure females from other herds. The stallions could gather around the herd, which included a mare in heat, and fought for her with the herd male and with each other. This happened 5 days every month for a year, until the mare finally conceived. Although foals can be born any month, early December — January had a definite annual birth/mating peak that corresponded to the rainy season.
Interesting fact: Quagga has long been considered a suitable candidate for domestication, as it was considered the most docile of the zebras. Imported workhorses did not perform well in extreme climates and were regularly succumbed to the dreaded African Equine Disease.
Quagga females, which were in good condition, bred at 2-year intervals, having their first pup between 3 and 3.5 years old. Males cannot breed until they are five or six years old. Quagga mothers looked after the foal for up to a year. Like horses, little quaggas were able to stand, walk, and suckle milk shortly after birth. The cubs at birth had a lighter coloration than his parents. The foals were guarded by their mothers, as well as by the lead stallion and other females in their group.
Natural enemies of the quagga
Initially, zoologists suggested that the function of the alternating white and black stripes in zebras was a defense mechanism against predators. But in general, it is not clear why the quagga did not have stripes on the backs. It has also been theorized that zebras developed alternating patterns as thermoregulation for cooling, and that the quagga lost them due to living in cooler climates. Although the problem is that the mountain zebra also lives in similar environments and has a striped pattern that covers its entire body.
Differences in stripes may also aid in species recognition during mixing of herds, so that members of the same subspecies or species can recognize and follow their congeners. However, a 2014 study supported the hypothesis of a defense mechanism against fly bites, and the quagga likely lived in areas with less fly activity than other zebras. Quaggas had few predators in their habitat.
The main animals that posed a threat to them were:
- tigers ;
Humans became the main pests for quaggas, since it was easy to find and kill this animal. They were slaughtered to provide meat and skins. The skins were sold or used locally. The quagga was probably endangered due to its limited distribution, and besides, it could compete with livestock for food. The quagga disappeared from most of its range by 1850. The last population in the wild, in Orange State, was extirpated in the late 1870s.
Population and species status
The last quagga died at the Amsterdam Zoo in Holland on August 12, 1883. The wild individual was destroyed in South Africa by hunters a few years earlier, somewhere in 1878. In the South African Red Book, the quagga is mentioned as an extinct species. There are 23 famous stuffed animals around the world, including two foals and a fetus. In addition, a head and neck, a foot, seven complete skeletons and various tissue samples remain. The 24th example was destroyed in Königsberg, Germany during World War II and various skeletons and bones were also lost. One of the effigies is in the museum of Kazan University.
Interesting fact: After the close relationship between quaggas and plains zebras was discovered, R. Rau started the Quagga project in 1987 to create a population of quagga-like zebras by selectively breeding on a reduced strip from a population of plains zebras, with the goal of placing them to the former quagga range.
The experimental herd consisted of 19 individuals from Namibia and South Africa. They were chosen because they reduced the number of stripes on the back of the body and legs. The project's first foal was born in 1988. After the creation of a quagg-like herd, the project participants plan to release them in the Western Cape. The introduction of these quagga-like zebras could be part of a comprehensive population recovery program.
The quagga, wildebeest and ostriches that used to be found together in pastures in the old days could live together in pastures where native vegetation must be supported by grazing. In early 2006, the animals of the third and fourth generations obtained as part of the project became very similar to the images and preserved stuffed quaggas. The practice is controversial, as the resulting specimens are actually zebras and resemble quaggs only in appearance, but are genetically different. The technology of using DNA for cloning has not yet been developed.