One hundred and twenty-five years ago today, on 12 August 1883, the last quagga died in Amsterdam zoo. Quagga’s tick so many of my ‘fascinated’ boxes; fascinated by South Africa, fascinated by equines, fascinated by the natural world, fascinated by stripes, fascinated by natural selection, fascinated by science.
Quaggas became extinct in the wild almost without anyone noticing. They were hunted for sport and for their meat. A few lonely specimens remained in zoos until 1883 and now just 14 stuffed specimens still exist in the world. But an extraordinary project in South Africa aims to bring them back. Careful examination of genetic samples revealed they were actually a plains zebra sub-species. Thanks to the wisdom of scientists they are selecting zebras with the most quagga-like characteristics and breeding from them to produce very quagga-like equines indeed. How very Darwinian!
Perhaps we can allow ourselves to hope that one day we’ll see creatures like Henry pictured here galloping around free and wild on South Africa’s plains once again.