35 years of the Quagga Project | Getaway

I've been fascinated by the Quagga Project since I was a kid, back when they were (rumoured) to be keeping a small herd of the creatures at the University of Cape Town, visible on drives around the foot of Table Mountain when visiting family. From the back seat, I would desperately scan the treelines and fields for the < 1 minute their "paddock" was supposedly in view, but never saw anything.

I'm glad that the project is still ongoing and getting some pretty positive results. I hadn't realised that genetic evidence has shown that the Quagga is just a subspecies; I actually thought the "de-extinct" population was more of a hybridisation project rather than purely selective breeding, but that actually sits a lot better in terms of the bioethics involved:

With the quagga only a subspecies of the diverse plains zebra, those visual characteristics could still be out there in the existent population, scattered among herds roaming anywhere from Etosha to Zululand.

Also a fan that they're immediately distinguishing it as an effective new subspecies, Rau's quagga:

Firstly, it is important to note that this is not a traditional quagga, but a Rau’s quagga, named after Reinhold Rau because of its different genetic routeIt

I do wonder what becomes of them once the project is "complete". They mention that the next step is focusing on the brown colouration, but that they could see this achieved in 1-2 generations, at which point the plan is to let the herd into the wild. But where? The quagga was originally a Cape/fynbos species with a spread up into Namibia and across towards KwaZulu Natal, so the logical reintroduction regions would be the West Cape, Karoo, Garden Route, and Cape Point. However, all of these are strongholds for the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, and I wonder how much the two species might compete. If you were to drop the herd off in Kruger or somewhere further north, where there are Plain's Zebra, I'd imagine the two subspecies would just intermingle and the coat pelage of the quagga would again become lost. It will be interesting to see how they balance the two concerns, but I'm hopeful that they find a way. I'd love to be able to visit somewhere like Camdeboo National Park in 20 or 30 years and find myself staring at a scene like this:

A Rau's quagga stands alone on an open savannah plain. The coat is clearly much sandier in colouration than a typical zebra, with pure white legs and stripes only on the head, neck, and upper body, fading out to nothing elsewhere.
They are a remarkably good likeness to historical quagga already; an incredibly beautiful creature indeed! Photo from the Quagga Project website.

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  • Murray Adcock.
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