Quagga Project

The Quagga Project

The Quagga is an animal that I discovered while playing a video game when I was younger. It looked like a zebra, but it had fewer stripes on its rear end. On the game, it was labeled extinct. When I heard that this label was going to be changed, I began researching.

The Quagga used to roam the plains of Africa, similar to any zebra. It has stripes but only on its front side, with the stripes being more brown than black. Its rear end is also a shade of brown. When it grazed on crops, farmers began actively poaching them. The population soon declined. The last quagga died on August 12, 1883.

quagga pic
Source: Breeding Back

Reinhold Rau had the idea to bring the Quagga back to existence through genetics. He visited many museums holding Quagga specimens and extracted DNA samples. By discussing the mitochondrial DNA with Dr. Theodor Haltenorth, he found that the Quagga was in fact a subspecies of the Plains Zebra (Equus Quagga), not its own species. With this in his mind, Rau founded a committee in March 1986 called the Quagga Project.

The Quagga Project is an attempt to breed a quagga through a Plains Zebra and its DNA. Rau’s goal is to breed a Quagga by looks (phenotype) or by genes (genotype). It is very likely that the Quagga DNA still is present in the plains zebra populations. On March 1987, nine strong and healthy zebras were picked to be part of the test. The first genetically modified foal was born on December 9, 1988, and the F2 generation was born in February 1997. After many different tests, the 5th generation Quagga was born, and was declared the first Quagga 2.0.

5th-generation-quagga
Source: The Quagga Project

Now, the new Quaggas roam the plains of the Elandsberg Nature Reserve in South Africa. “People get really excited about the quaggas because here is an example of where an animal was thought to be extinct, totally gone and not on Earth,” said Bernard Wooding, reserve manager at the preserve. “We’ve managed to rebreed it and bring it back again. It’s available to be seen by all — a unique and very exciting thing.” Not all scientists believe that the Quagga has been brought back though. “If they’re trying to make the claim that they’re restoring this exact species, I think that’s falling short.” says Dr. Robert Fleischer. Fleischer believes that their genetic makeup is not the same as the original Quagga, therefore their behavior is different. He thinks the only thing Rau achieved is the look of a Quagga, or the phenotype.

Many scientists believe that since it was our fault that the Quagga is extinct, it is our job to bring them back. However, others disagree with the idea of recreating an extinct animal. Some wonder even if you can regrow an extinct population, should you? With new research, scientists are getting closer to bringing wooly mammoths back to life within 4 years. Soon, recreating dinosaurs could be a possibility.”Years ago, I would have said it’s quite impossible,” said Harley. “Now, it is just within the bounds of foreseeable possibility.”

 

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