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Happy? Quagga Day!

By Jack Ashby, on 12 August 2011

extinction in South Africa 1883 Plate CCCXVII in von Schreber, Die Saugethiere in Abildungen Nach der Natur (Erlangen, 1840-1855)

A Quagga

128 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last quagga died.

And so here I celebrate what we at the Grant Museum, if no-one else, call “Quagga Day”.

How rare it is that the date of the demise of the last individual of a species is known – such opportunities for commemoration should not be missed.

The quagga is no stranger to our blog – this is the third time we’ve written about it since the site was created in January. It is our most blogged about specimen. This is because it is the rarest skeleton in the world (though read our Curator Mark’s post about that claim). The Grant Museum houses one of only seven skeletons in existence.

Image of the Grant Museum Quagga skeleton

The Grant Museum quagga

For the uninitiated, quaggas were a not-very-stripy zebra that used to live in South Africa. They were hunted to extinction because they competed with farmers’ livestock for grazing pastures, and because of a market for their unusual pelts. The last one died in Amsterdam Zoo, probably several years after her relatives disappeared from the wild.

Three years ago it seems I was the only person in the world celebrating the 125th anniversary of the quagga’s extinction, an event for which UCL press office helped me in sending out a press release. Apart from a few smaller UK outlets (and a picture on the BBC website) this was only picked up in any volume in South Africa and I did a couple of interviews for their newspapers and one for TV. They were published in Afrikaans so I’ve no idea what they actually said.

My point is that compared to other extinct species, quaggas don’t get a lot of coverage. In a couple of weeks it’s National Threatened Species Day in Australia to “celebrate” the extinction of the thylacine (I’ll write again then). Dodos are so ubiquitous that they get their own simile. Mammoths go one step further and are in fact an adjective. What does the quagga get?

So raise a glass, take a moment, and spare a thought for this extinct zebra.

Happy Quagga Day. Lest we forget.

2 Responses to “Happy? Quagga Day!”

  • 1
    Daniel Morse wrote on 12 August 2011:

    Hear hear.

    It’s a sad thought that if we were to take a day for every species which has been extinguished due to the actions of man – or, I should qualify, the deliberate actions of man – then we’d very quickly run out of days for the foreseeable future.

  • 2
    UCL Museums & Collections Blog » Blog Archive » Meet the moufflon wrote on 15 August 2011:

    […] mind the Grant Museum’s much publicised quagga – the Institute of Archaeology has got its own menagerie of strange and rare beasts to enjoy. […]

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