The quagga is an extinct subspecies of the plains zebra, which was once found in great numbers in the land around present day South Africa. It was distinguished from other zebras because the usual vivid stripes were only on the front part of the body. In the mid-section, the stripes faded and became wider, amalgamating into the plain brown of the rear parts. The legs completely lacked stripes and were lightly coloured. The only quagga to have been photographed alive was a mare at the Zoological Society of London's Zoo in Regent's Park in 1870.
The quagga was originally classified as an individual species in 1778. Over the next 200 years or so, many other zebras were described by naturalists and explorers. Because of the great variation in coat patterns (no two zebras are alike), taxonomists were left with a great number of described "species", and no easy way to tell which of these were true species, which were subspecies, and which were simply natural variants.
Long before this confusion was sorted out, the quagga had been hunted to extinction for meat, hides, and to preserve feed for domesticated stock. The last wild quagga was probably shot in the late 1870s, and the last specimen in captivity, a mare, died on August 12, 1883, at the Natura Artis Magistra zoo in Amsterdam. Because of the confusion between different zebra species, particularly among the general public, the quagga had become extinct before it was realized that it may have been a separate species.
The quagga was the first extinct creature to have its DNA studied. Recent genetic research at the Smithsonian Institution has demonstrated that the quagga was, in fact, not a separate species at all, but diverged from the extremely variable plains zebra, between 120,000 and 290,000 years ago.