The Last of the Quaggas

12 August 1883, the last of its kind, a quagga mare, died at the Natura Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam.

“A quagga is a zebra that had forgotten its pyjama bottoms” (joke told by Dutch settlers at the Cape)

An aquatint of the “Quaka” by the English natural history painter Samuel Daniell (1775 – 1811) from his “African Scenery and Animals” (1804)* 

When first seen by Europeans during the 17th century, quaggas were described as a mix of a horse and a zebra. Their name is an onomatopoeic deduction from their call “kwa-ha-ha", admittedly uttered by other zebras, too. It is still debated whether quaggas were a separate species of the genus equus (horse) or a mere subspecies of the plains zebra, but they were once one of the most common large mammals of South Africa until they fell victim to the usual fate European settler had in store for bigger herbivores. They were assumed to be food competitors for cattle as well as a separate source of meat and skins and hunted down.

Nicolas Marechal (1753 -1802) - an illustration of a quagga stallion from the menagerie of Louis XVI (1793)

The 19th century saw their rise in popularity and decline numbers. They were kept, ironically enough, with livestock in South Africa because especially stallions were said to attack any type of intruder and a couple of quaggas had been transported to Europe to be exhibited in zoos and, rarely, to draw carriages (like other zebras, too) and to be interbred with horses. The mare that produced a hybrid with a quagga stallion, result of the latter process, known as Lord Morton’s mare, was used by Darwin as a proof for the telegony theory, since her further offspring sired by other stallions mysteriously had stripes like a quagga. The theory of children inheriting traits of the mother’s former partners has become obsolete with Mendel’s inheritance laws during the 1890s, but it brought the quagga to a bit of public interest during the years before.

The coloured photo of Quagga from London Zoo, taken in 1870 **

The distinction between quaggas and zebras was not quite clear and nobody actually realised that the once numerous horsies actually were threatened with extinction and when upper class big game hunters discovered South Africa as a sporting paradise and put them on their hit list and several draughts hit the region, the last herd herd of quaggas living in the Orange Free State bit the dust during the 1870s and it was not even noticed that they finally had died out until years later. A German colonial officer in Namibia claimed to have seen a small herd of quaggas as late as 1901 and noted in his diary that he couldn’t bring himself to shoot at the “marvellous and delightful” animals, but the sighting has not been verified and the man was a well-known alcoholic and morphinist. Today, only 23 taxidermied quaggas exist worldwide, but since the 1980s a project is running in South Africa to breed back quaggas from plains zebra with weak stripes on their hindquarters and in 2005 a foal resembling a true quagga was born and it is planned to re-introduce a herd to the wild where quaggas once roamed free.

and more about the quagga and the Quagga Project on

– more of Samuel Daniell's art can be found on

** image found on