Extinct relative of the zebra brought back

Extinct relative of the zebra brought back

The Quagga, a cousin of the more commonly known Zebra, has been extinct for more than one hundred years. Now a group of scientists from Cape Town has began to take steps to bring this animal back into the world.

A group formally known as the Quagga Project has been working hard to give this lesser known species a second chance. Eric Harley of Cape Town University said that the key to all this was hidden in the animals genes. Testing on existing Quagga skins revealed its relation to modern day plains Zebra, which gave the Quagga Project a good place to start.

Harley predicted that because the Zebra and Quagga are so close in genetic makeup that there is a good chance that the genes to breed a Quagga exist within the Zebras we all know.

After four or five generations of careful breeding the group was able to develop foals with the strips fading into the light brown towards the back that is distinct for the Quagga, proving Harleys hypothesis to be correct.

There are many nay-sayers about this however, they believe that all the Quagga Project has succeeded in doing is creating a Zebra with a different coat, and that they haven’t captured the ecological adaptations or behavioral mannerisms of the original Quagga. These animals “might not be genetically the same,” says fellow project leader Mike Gregor, who admits that “there might have been other genetic characteristics [and] adaptations that we haven’t taken into account.”

As to please the masses, these creatures are named “Rau quaggas,” after Reinhold Rau, one of the project’s originators, making them now in theory a new species. Only six of the 100 animals on the reserve currently have this name, but when the count reaches 50 there are plans for the herd to live together in one reserve.

“What we’re saying is you can try and do something or you could just not,” adds Gregor. “And I think us trying to do, trying to remedy something, is better than doing nothing at all.”

Quagga had stripes, similar to Zebra, but these would taper off as it reached the rear end of their body and change to a solid dusty brown. They used to inhabit South Africa in large herds until settlers in the 1880’s set their sights on the Quagga and wiped it from the earth completely. However modern day DNA science and carefully planned selective breeding has brought a creature that bears a striking likeliness of the Quagga.