†Equus quagga quagga

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© miha de/Shutterstock.com

The quagga is a subspecies of plains zebra.


Quagga Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
†Equus quagga quagga

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Quagga Conservation Status

Quagga Locations

Quagga Locations

Quagga Facts

Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Herd
Fun Fact
The quagga is a subspecies of plains zebra.
Estimated Population Size
Biggest Threat
Most Distinctive Feature
stripes that disappear below the neck
Gestation Period
12 months
Litter Size
lions, humans
Common Name
South Africa

Quagga Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Top Speed
40 mph
250kg-300kg (551lbs-661lbs)
125cm-135cm (49in-53in)
257cm (101in)
Age of Sexual Maturity
3-3.5 years
Age of Weaning
11 months

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The quagga became extinct over 130 years ago.

The quagga was a subspecies of zebra that existed until the late 19th century. They had a unique stripe pattern compared to other zebras, thus their skins were highly sought after by humans. The term quagga was once used for all zebras. At another time, quaggas were mistakenly classified as a completely separate species. However, after examining their DNA, scientists learned that the now-extinct quaggas were actually a subspecies of plains zebra. Unfortunately, these animals were not well studied while they were still around.

5 Incredible facts!

Some interesting facts about the quagga you might not know:

  • Only one living quagga was ever photographed. There are five photos in existence of the mare who lived in the London Zoo.
  • In the past, scientists believed these animals were a separate species from zebras.
  • Quaggas were primarily diurnal, though one member of the herd would always stand guard at night.
  • The first-ever animal to have its DNA analyzed was the quagga.
  • Quaggas would groom each other to keep clean and rid each other of bothersome pests and parasites.

Scientific name

Equus quagga quagga is the scientific name for the subspecies of zebra to which this animal belonged. The quagga is in the Class Mammalia, Order Perissodactyla, Family Equidae, Genus Equus, and species Equus quagga, which is the plains zebra. It developed into a subspecies between 120,000 and 290,000 years ago.

There are five other subspecies closely related to the quagga:

  • Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchellii),
  • Chapman’s zebra (Equus quagga chapmani),
  • Crawshay’s zebra (Equus quagga crawshayi),
  • Grant’s zebra (Equus quagga boehmi), and
  • Maneless zebra (Equus quagga borensis).

Additional relatives of the quagga include other species of horses, and asses (or donkeys), all members of the Equidae family, or the family of equines. Horses originated about 56 million years ago and went through numerous variations before Equus, the line from which all modern horses are derived, began about 4.5 million years ago. Zebras and asses split off from this line about 2.1-3.4 million years ago, with the plains zebra emerging 1.4 million years ago.

The name “quagga” is an onomatopoeia, or imitation of the sound made by the animal. The call, as described by South Africans, is a “kwa-ha-ha” sound. The pronunciation of the word “quagga” uses a short “A” sound. The first part of the word is pronounced like “flag.” The correct pronunciation of quagga is “kwag-uh.”


Taxidermied Quagga in the Naturhistorisches Museum of Basel.

A taxidermied Quagga in the Natural History Museum of Basel, Switzerland.

©Vassil / CC0 1.0 – Original / License

The animal’s appearance was fairly similar to a zebra and to a horse, but it had distinguishable traits. It had elongated legs, and the tail had long hair on the end. The legs were incredibly strong and were made for walking long distances and running from predators. It could reach speeds of 40 miles per hour. It could also use its legs to deliver a powerful defensive kick with its hard hooves.

The fur color was white to brown and had dark brown or black stripes. The stripe pattern did not cove the entire body as it does on other zebras. The stripes would fade out or stop somewhere below the neck or shoulders.

The typical length of the animal was about 8.42 feet (257 centimeters). The height was 49 to 53 inches, or over 4 feet. Its weight ranged between 550-660 pounds (250 and 300 kilograms).


Since they were not largely studied until after their extinction in the 19th century, there is insufficient information on the behavior of these animals. It has been noted that they were highly social animals. They lived in large herds, or harems, and would migrate in groups to feed. While some animals migrate for the winter, they did not. They traveled daily rather than migrating for a specific season.

In the daytime, they would travel to plains or pastures with long grass to feed on. In the middle of the day, along their trek, they would pause to drink water from nearby streams or other water sources. They would walk back to an area of shorter grass where they would spend their nights. The lower grass plains were more open and made it harder for predators to hide, giving them a better chance to sleep safely. One member of the harem would always keep an eye out for danger while the rest of the herd rested overnight.


These animals lived exclusively in South Africa . They were abundant in the Orange Free State and in Cape Province, especially in the Karoo region. The karoo is an expansive desert shrubland subregion of South Africa that ranges across the Northern, Eastern, and Western Cape provinces. They inhabited arid and temperate climates on grassland and savanna habitats where there would be plenty of grass to feed on.


These animals were migratory grazers. They were not predators to any animals because they were herbivores with a simple diet limited to grasses. Along with water to drink, grass supplied all of the nourishment quaggas needed to survive. These picky eaters preferred to graze on tall grass as there was plenty more for the whole harem to eat than shorter grass pastures could provide. Grass is the main food source for other zebras as well. However, other species will also occasionally eat additional plant matter such as leaves and twigs, and sometimes snack on fruit.

Predators and Threats

Quaggas, like most animals, faced threats from natural predators in the wild. The biggest threat to them, however, proved to be humans. For many years, they were hunted in large numbers for their meat and skins. They were also frequently hunted for sport. The danger of wild predators was an insignificant factor in their demise in comparison to the massive impact humans made. Farmers and settlers did not like them because they saw guaggas as competition for their livestock’s food supply.

Regrettably, there were no conservation efforts or protections in place for these animals while they were alive. If there had been, there would possibly still be some quaggas around today. Their status on the IUCN Red List is, of course, extinct. Humans had already killed too many quaggas before anyone had the chance to realize they were one-of-a-kind. This ignorance ultimately led to their extinction in the 19th century.

Lions hunted quaggas. They would hide in the tall grass, stalking their victim. The lion would pounce and kill a quagga with its mighty jaws before feasting on it. Other big cats native to South Africa, such as cheetahs and leopards, were potential predators to quaggas as well. Essentially, any animals that prey upon zebras most likely targeted quaggas also.

Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan

Quaggas reproduced sexually. Their mating behavior was much like that of zebras. They were polygynous, which means there was one stallion per harem of females. A stallion would build his harem by stealing fillies from another herd when they showed signs of ovulation (a distinctinve posture). To claim a filly, the stallion would have fought other stallions that were seeking fillies in heat. This routine would take place for five days every month, so conception could occur at any time of year.

It would take some time for the filly to conceive, perhaps an entire year, and then the gestation period would last for another 12 months. The mother quagga would give live birth to one baby called a foal. Foals were born precocial, meaning they could walk shortly after birth. They were fairly independent right away, but drank milk from their mothers until they were weaned at about 11 months of age. Then they would start grazing on grass like the older members. A quagga would stay with the herd for its whole life.

The lifespan for quaggas in the wild was about 20 years. In captivity, where they were cared for and had more protection, they lived up to twice as long.


Sadly, the current population of quaggas is zero. They no longer exist largely because they were hunted by humans.

Not much was known about the quaggas before it was too late for scientists to study them. In August of 1883, the last known quagga, a mare, died in captivity. She had been living at the Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam. It is believed that the last wild quagga was killed by a hunter around 1878.

There is currently a program that aims to revive quaggas. In 1987, The Quagga Project was started by a group of scientists and volunteers in South Africa. The group uses selective breeding of zebras to achieve the same characteristics that quaggas had. They call this “breeding back.” The project has successfully bred quite a few specimens that look almost identical to the original quaggas. The question posed by many is whether these animals could be true quaggas genetically because the focus has been solely on how they look visually. Some argue that they do not have genuine physiological traits and characteristics of an actual quagga, but time and DNA testing will tell.

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Quagga FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is the quagga still alive?

No, the quagga is extinct. The extinction date was in the 1800s.

How did the quagga go extinct?

Humans over-hunting the quagga led to its extinction.

What is the difference between a zebra and a quagga?

The difference between a zebra and a quagga is the appearance of their stripe pattern. Quaggas’ stripes fade out on their body, while zebras’ stripes are consistent all over.

Are the quaggas back?

The quaggas are not back. However, scientists are working toward selectively breeding zebras to have the same appearance as quaggas.

Are quaggas carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Quaggas were herbivores.

How do you pronounce quagga?

The pronunciation of quagga is kwag-uh.

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  2. Britannica / Accessed July 23, 2021
  3. Britannica Kids / Accessed July 23, 2021
  4. Smithsonian Magazine / Accessed July 23, 2021
  5. Animal Diversity Web / Accessed July 23, 2021
  6. New World Encyclopedia / Accessed July 23, 2021
  7. Safaris Africana / Accessed July 23, 2021
  8. The Quagga Project / Accessed July 23, 2021