There are three zebra species. (For more information go to: “How many different zebras are there?”)
Not at this stage. However, since techniques in assisted or enhanced reproduction are advancing rapidly, such techniques might be applied at a later stage.
No; for cloning, live cells are needed. The only genetic material of the Quagga available are portions of mitochondrial DNA.
Attitudes towards the environment now are very different from what they were during the19th century. The extinction of the Quagga was caused by man out of greed and short-sightedness. It is believed that this extinction might be reversible.
We are not aware of any directly comparable projects. However, Professor Tadeusz Vetulani (University of Poznan, Poland) had already undertaken research on the history and breeding of Koniks in the Bilgoraj region before 1925. Koniks (Polish for “small horse”) are primitive country horses of mixed ancestry, including Tarpans. This research led to the establishment of a breeding project in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest in 1936. The project is still on-going and has as its aim the retrieval of Tarpan characteristics.
Professor Tadeusz Vetulani (University of Poznan, Poland) had already undertaken research on the history and breeding of Koniks in the Bilgoraj region before 1925
The Quagga was not an animal all on it’s own, as the name might seem to imply. It was a Zebra, and as modern DNA analysis has shown, not a seperate zebra species either, but one of several subspecies (local forms) of the Plains Zebra, of which most are still living. Therefore selective breeding, aiming at retrieving Quagga genes, believed to be still present in living Plains Zebra populations, might eventually result in individuals which have at least the exterior characteristics of the extinct Quagga.
Yes, but only if the extinct animal was of the same species (gene pool) as still-living close relatives. Usually subspecies do not look very different from each other. However, in the case of the Plains Zebra which has a huge distribution area from northern East Africa to South Africa, populations at either end look very different from each other. It is this marked difference in appearance between the extinct Quagga and it’s northernmost relative, the Grant or Boehm Zebra, which makes the re-breeding of the Quagga desirable.
A: There are different opinions about the reason or purpose of the incomplete striping in the Quagga. Usually colouration in animals is very useful to render the animal less visible and therefore it gives some protection against predators. In recent years it has been suggested that zebra stripes give good protection against the attacks of Tsetse flies and the transmission of diseases by these flies. Because the Quagga lived outside the area where Tsetse flies occur, it is argued that it could afford to lose it’s stripes. There is, however, still a strong case for the Quagga’s colouration having been useful as camouflage in it’s habitat.
This unusual project evolved out of taxidermy. Through the re-mounting of 4 of the 23 preserved Quaggas between 1969 and 1981 and the examination of 22 of the preserved specimens, mainly in 1971, Reinhold Rau got to closely observe the Quagga’s morphology. Being familiar with the appearance of the Plains Zebra populations, many similarities in stripe-pattern and colouration became apparent between the extinct Quagga and certain individuals in southern populations of Plains Zebras from Etosha National Park in Namibia to the west, and Zululand in the east. These similarities, together with some other factors, inspired the attempt to breed southern Plains Zebras, aiming at retrieving and concentrating Quagga characteristics. It took 12 years to overcome many obstacles, especially strong criticism from several scientists, before the breeding project got off the ground in 1987 which aims at reversing the Quagga’s extinction.
Clearly they interbred at one stage since they all come from a common stock, differentiating later helped by being on different sides of the Orange river (not a total divide, probably, but a hinderance to frequent crossing). The fact that the Orange river created a barrier which, probably, prevented regular contact and interbreeding between the two subspecies did not make them two separate species. It must be noted that populations have to be separate for a very long period of time (at the least in excess of 100,000 years, better is 500,000) before their evolving differences become sufficient to justify separate species status. The very fact that the project so easily concentrated the Quagga pelage genes to produce Rau quaggas in only 3 to 4 generations implies that the quagga is very close to other populations of Plains zebra, and also shows that quagga genes are still present in more striped zebras around the periphery of the quagga’s distribution range. The Quagga is only a variety/cline of Plains zebra (hardly even a sub-species).
Inbreeding is avoided as far as possible by starting with a fair number of individuals (18 in this case from 3 geographically separate populations) and maintaining the breeding stock from their progeny at between 50 and 100 animals. For each animal the inbreeding co efficient is calculated and when new groups are started this and the studbook record is used to prevent inbreeding. The quaggas natural instinct of chasing the yearlings away from the herd when new siblings are born also prevents inbreeding from occurring. These yearlings meet up in a bachelor group and the strongest bachelor male will then form a new breeding group with 2 or 3 young mares.
More striped individuals are removed on a regular basis (before breeding occurs); The number of individuals removed varies from year to year. Ranking according to the striping pattern is the prime selection category although earlier generation animals who have produced many foals may be removed to prevent too much genetic input from some individuals. Unstriped animals are retained to continue with the breeding process. As little as possible movement between the breeding groups is done as these are stable breeding units that produce best when left undisturbed. Occasionally when a new property joins the project a select group of individuals is caught and moved to the new location.
Burchell’s Zebras (Equus quagga burchellii) which look like the extinct Quagga (Equus quagga quagga) – e.g. no stripes on hind body and legs etc – are not called true Quaggas (Equus quagga quagga), but rather Rau Quaggas. From our point of view they are “real” Quaggas (Equus quagga quagga), but since there has always been the possibility that there might have been other features of the original Quagga (Equus quagga quagga) that we have not selected for (because we do not know what those features, if any, might have been), we have chosen the term “Rau Quagga” to describe our recovered phenotype. Rau quagga is the name we chose to apply to animals which meet the criteria of no scorable stripes on the hind body and effectively none on the legs. Darwin recorded occasional stripes on the hocks in some Quaggas (Equus quagga quagga), so we allow that in the hind legs.
A population, however large or small, in which all individuals share basic genetic characteristics, and therefore produce fertile offspring, constitutes a species. If a species occurs over a wide geographical area, as for example, the Plains Zebra, (north-east Africa to South Africa), populations in different parts of the distribution area, especially at the opposite ends, may look quite different from each other. Yet, when members of those populations are mated, they produce fertile offspring (these offspring are able to reproduce). If various populations within a huge distribution area do differ from each other in appearance, they are considered different subspecies. If there are no geographical barriers which separate such populations or subspecies, the change in appearance is gradual and is referred to as a “cline”. If however, there are geographical barriers which separate populations that were formerly part of a unified distribution, such isolated populations or subspecies could differ from others more markedly. Depending on how long they have been isolated/separated, they may be on the verge of becoming separate species, as there is no more exchange of genes between these and other subspecies. Important: Separate populations have to be separate for a very long period of time (at the least in excess of 100,000 years, better is 500,000) before their evolving differences become sufficient to justify separate species status. Typically separate species are unable to produce fertile offspring (e.g. horse and donkey produce sterile mules) although even that is not absolute, although at the least their hybrid offspring should show reduced fertility.