In 1883, the last quagga died in Amsterdam zoo. As a lover of equines, I have always been intrigued by the quagga’s sad story – hunted to extinction until only one lonely specimen remained in a zoo. What crimes against the natural world we commit!
In the late 1980s I read somewhere about a project to redevelop the quagga through selective breeding from plains zebras, after Reinhold Rau found that quaggas and plains zebras shared the same DNA and were, in fact, subspecies.
The quagga project is happening in the Great Karoo, South Africa, happily for me a place I shall be visiting later this month. This thought got me quite excited. I wondered where stuffed specimens of quaggas were and, to my surprise, found there was one at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire, no more than 35 miles away! Just before christmas I arranged to visit the museum with my friends Cloudhigh and Roland Wyckwyre, who especially loves hoofed ungulates. Yesterday we went. It was the perfect distraction from the heartbreak of the past few weeks.
This is a spectacular collection of stuffed creatures – all kinds of animals, birds, fish, and insects displayed in huge, brightly-lit glass cases. Before we’d even started I knew that the couple of hours we had here wasn’t going to be enough. But before looking at anything else, I wanted to see that quagga.
And there she was, standing there looking a bit dog-eared, faded and ragged, among a really beautiful collection of zebras. Lord Rothschild must have loved zebras.
I sat and made a very hasty small sketch to help me look more closely:
The fact that through careful observation, scientific investigation and a programme of selective breeding human beings might be able to give quaggas a second chance gives me real hope.
The most quagga-like foal so far is Henry, pictured here with his mum, born two years ago at the quagga project:
What a handsome colt he is!