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Kronos

On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
Print version ISSN 0259-0190

Abstract

HEYWOOD, Peter. The micro-politics of macromolecules in the taxonomy and restoration of Quaggas. Kronos [online]. 2015, vol.41, n.1, pp.314-337. ISSN 2309-9585.

Quaggas, partially striped zebras from the Karoo, were a distinctive component of the South African fauna. They had dark stripes on their faces, necks and fore-bodies. Otherwise their bodies were unstriped, and the background colour of both the striped and unstriped upper parts of their bodies was chestnut. They were hunted extensively, and in the nineteenth century were increasingly excluded from grazing land and water. The Game Amendment Act of the Government of the Cape of Good Hope was intended to protect quaggas, as well as other fauna, but by the time of its passage in 1886 they were already extinct. Quaggas were given the binomial name Equus quagga in the eighteenth century and many viewed them as a species distinct from plains zebras. However, in 1984 the first DNA sequencing of an extinct organism demonstrated that quaggas were not a separate species but a subspecies of the plains zebra. This revised taxonomy made possible the Quagga Project in which selective breeding from plains zebras has resulted in animals termed 'Rau quaggas' whose bodies have reduced striping but which lack the chestnut background colour that is evident in most paintings of living quaggas. Rau quaggas now live in captivity in several locations in South Africa, and could help restore the ecology of damaged environments where quaggas once roamed. Both quagga DNA and the Quagga Project can be considered as 'boundary objects' that bring together a heterogeneous variety of stakeholders including scientists and hunters, nature lovers and commercial organisations. The successful micro-politics of the Quagga Project in negotiating with different bodies and in obtaining funding from diverse sources provides a model that could be emulated by conservation bodies.

Keywords : Boundary objects; Equus quagga; macromolecules; selective breeding; Quagga Project; Reinhold Rau.

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