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In 1955, Lutz Heck suggested in his book Grosswild im Etoshaland that careful selective breeding with the plains zebra could produce an animal resembling the extinct quagga: a zebra with reduced striping and a brownish basic colour. Reinhold Rau visited in 1971 various museums in Europe to examine the quagga specimens in their collections. During these visits he discussed with Dr. Theodor Haltenorth, a mammalogist from Munich, Germany, the feasibility of attempting to re-breed the quagga. Haltenorth expected that such a programme would be possible.
During later years, Reinhold Rau had contacted several zoologists and Park authorities, but they were on the whole negative because the quagga has left no living descendants, and thus the genetic composition of this animal is not present in living zebras. Reinhold Rau did not abandon his re-breeding proposal, as he considered the quagga to be a subspecies of the plains zebra. In 1980, molecular studies of mitochondrial DNA of a quagga indicated that this animal was indeed a subspecies of the plains zebra.
After the DNA examination results appeared in publications from 1984 onward, gradually a more positive attitude was taken towards the quagga re-breeding proposal. In March 1986, the project committee was formed after influential persons became involved. During March 1987, nine zebras were selected and captured at the Etosha National Park in Namibia. On 24 April 1987, these zebras were brought to the specially constructed breeding camp complex at the Nature Conservation farm "Vrolijkheid" near Robertson, South Africa. This marked the start of the quagga re-breeding project.
After the number of zebras increased, the Quagga Project had to abandon the "Vrolijkheid" farm. In October 1992, six zebras were moved to land which had sufficient natural grazing. This would reduce the cost of feeding. In 1993, the remaining zebras were moved to two additional sites. On 29 June 2000, the Quagga Project Association, represented by its chairman Dr. Mike Cluver and South African National Parks by its CEO Mavuso Msimang signed a co-operation agreement. This agreement changed the Quagga Project from a private initiative to an officially recognised and logistically supported project.
In 2004, the 83 zebras in the program were living at 11 localities near Cape Town. On 20 January 2005, a foal considered to be the first quagga-like individual because of a visible reduced striping, was born.
As the quagga occupied a circumscribed range and diverged from other Plains zebras as recently as during the Wolstonian Stage, it might have had some special adaptations to local ecological conditions.
- Max, D.T. (2006-01-01). "Can You Revive an Extinct Animal?". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
- Hofreiter, M.; Caccone, A.; Fleischer, R. C.; Glaberman, S.; Rohland, N.; Leonard, J. A. (2005). "A rapid loss of stripes: The evolutionary history of the extinct quagga". Biology Letters 1 (3): 291–295. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2005.0323. PMC 1617154. PMID 17148190.