stunning classic (1800s) full-colour engraving of the distinctive isabella quagga
(public area)

The quagga Equus quagga quagga is these days well-known for 2 very completely different
causes. Firstly: it’s – or was – the one semi-striped type of zebra, its
striping being confined to its foreparts. Secondly: though as soon as widespread in its
South African veldt habitat, it was hunted into extinction there throughout the
second half of the 19th Century, with the final captive
specimen’s demise in Amsterdam Zoo on 12 August 1883 marking the tragic
disappearance of this extremely distinctive equid from the face of our planet – although
The Quagga Mission continues its purpose to recreate this vanished creature’s attribute
phenotype (exterior look) through back-breeding, utilizing striping-deplete
specimens of different Equus quagga
subspecies to supply quagga facsimiles.

Talking of which: immediately, the quagga is classed
as a subspecies of the plains zebra Equus
, however again within the mid-1800s when nonetheless very a lot alive it was deemed
to be a sound, distinct species in its personal proper, and was dubbed Hippotigris quacka (hippotigris being
the title given to zebras by historical students who believed these exotic-looking striped
equids to be the product of matings between horses and tigers!) – see later for
additional taxonomic particulars. However that isn’t all.

of 5 valuable pictures of an grownup quagga mare dwelling at London Zoo from
15 March 1851 till her demise there on 15 July 1872 – these are
the one recognized photographs of a stay quagga (click on
right here for extra particulars regarding this quagga quintet)

For a time throughout that very same interval, a
second, very exceptional quagga species was additionally acknowledged, regardless of being recognized
from only a single specimen – a poorly-preserved pores and skin previously held on the
British Museum in London. This distinctive, extraordinary-looking animal turned
generally known as the isabella quagga, however immediately the pores and skin is lengthy misplaced and the isabella
quagga itself is lengthy forgotten. Consequently, I felt that what (very) little
is thought about this stunning if baffling enigma of an equid well-merited to
be collated and offered in article type to ensure that modern-day readers to
grow to be conscious of its erstwhile existence. So right here is the hitherto-obscure
historical past of the long-overlooked isabella quagga – a ShukerNature unique.

I first realized of the isabella quagga Hippotigris isabellinus a few years in the past,
once I chanced upon the next previously-obscure but fascinating excerpt
from a quagga-themed communication by well-known British zoologist Richard Lydekker
that had been revealed by the scientific journal Nature on 10 January 1901. The excerpt alluded to a supposedly
separate, second species of quagga, once more extinct:

…the British Museum
previously had the pores and skin of a younger quagga, in very dangerous situation, which was
offered by the traveller William Burchell [after whom Burchell’s zebra is named],
and was subsequently described by Hamilton Smith as a definite species, underneath
the title of Hippotigris isabellinus.

factors to notice right here. Firstly: the above-mentioned Hamilton Smith was Charles
Hamilton Smith (1776–1859), a lieutenant-colonel within the British Military. He was
additionally a naturalist who scientifically described and named a number of equine species
and subspecies. In two 1841-published tomes referred to later right here, he dubbed
this enigmatic animal the isabella quagga. Secondly: whereas all zebra species
and subspecies are these days housed within the genus Equus (alongside horses and asses), again in Lt-Col. Hamilton
Smith’s time a number of had been housed in their very own separate genus, Hippotigris, together with the conventional
quagga, which was formally deemed again them to be a sound species in its personal
proper (fairly than merely a subspecies of the plains sebra, as it’s labeled
immediately) and was duly generally known as Hippotigris

Lydekker’s communication then continued with the
following textual content, however it’s unclear whether or not this textual content was nonetheless referring to the
isabella quagga or (as I believe) had returned to the communication’s major
topic, the conventional quagga:

Apparently London
museums possess no different relics of this misplaced species, of which, nevertheless, we
consider there’s a specimen within the museum at Edinburgh. Because the animal yielded
no trophies worthy the eye of the sportsman, it’s unlikely that there
are any specimens in personal collections, until, perchance, a cranium or two could
be in existence.

The remaining textual content in Lydekker’s communication
unequivocally referred to the conventional quagga, so it needn’t be quoted right here.

What precisely was the isabella quagga, I questioned,
once I first started researching this curious creature, and what did it even look
like, taking into account that Lydekker offered no description of it in his
communication and the British Museum not has it?

Again in pre-internet occasions, it was under no circumstances simple
to analysis something as unimaginably obscure because the isabella quagga, so after
numerous attemptss to solicit extra info regarding all of it proved futile,
I positioned Lydekker’s intriguing communication on file and directed my consideration
to different topics. However these failures, nevertheless, I by no means forgot
about it, so once I was checking some particulars lately whereas finishing some
different researches and observed it once more, nonetheless on file, I made a decision to reinvestigate
its elusive topic, however now assisted enormously by the huge wealth of knowledge
readily accessible on-line. And this time, lastly, I used to be profitable, as now

Initially, my solely clue had lain in its moniker.
For on this occasion, isabella refers to not a lady’s title however as a substitute to a
color, recognized in full as isabelline, and which constitutes this thriller
quagga’s species title, isabellinus.
It’s variously outlined as
pale grey-yellow, pale fawn, pale
cream-brown or parchment color, and is primarily utilised in relation to
mammalian coat color and chook plumage.

subsequently, I mused, this shade was the background colouration of the coat of
this distinctive specimen (a male, by the way), which means, if that’s the case, that it was paler
in look than regular quaggas and doubtless with fainter stripes too.
Whether or not such a distinction warranted Hamilton Smith naming it as a separate
species, nevertheless, when it was absolutely nothing greater than an aberrantly pallid
(probably leucistic?) specimen of the conventional quagga (see later), was one other


The pale-coloured engraving of the isabella quagga
from Hamilton Smith’s two 1841 tomes (public area)

my current researches, I uncovered two stunning classic engravings illustrating
the isabella quagga, each of which signify it within the dwelling state. Certainly one of
these engravings is hand-coloured in very pale shades with minimal background
colouration. The opposite engraving is in full-colour, so it’s far more vibrant.

traced the pale engraving again to a few tomes from 1841, which upon shut
examination turned out to be an identical in content material however bearing completely different titles.
One is entitled Horses, and
constitutes Quantity 20 of the huge 40-volume sequence edited by Sir William
Jardine and entitled The Naturalist’s
. The opposite tome is precisely the identical however is retitled as The Pure Historical past of the Horse and
constitutes a stand-alone quantity. In each tomes, the creator is given as Charles
Hamilton Smith, and a concise part documenting what he particularly refers
to because the isabella quagga is included, containing the pale engraving of this
specimen. In each tomes, it’s designated as Plate 25, and is credited to
Hamilton Smith.

In his
duplicated 1841 tomes, Hamilton Smith started his temporary protection of the isabella
quagga (pp. 332-334, and which constitutes this claimed species’ formal
scientific description and naming) by stating that though this animal’s physique
form (together with its head) in contrast carefully with that of the conventional quagga, he
had separated it from the latter equid as a result of it differed by advantage of its
smaller measurement (barely 10 arms, i.e. 40 in, tall) and much more so by the varieties
and color of its stripes.

then referred to an unidentified equid seen by travelling French naturalist
François Le Vaillant (1753-1824), presumably in South Africa’s Cape as that is
the place he had hung out amassing animal specimens, and which he’d named the
zebre however was apparently completely different from these zebras already recognized from there.
Some zoological authorities, together with Dutch zoologist Coenraad Temminck (whose
father was Le Vaillant’s employer) had thought-about the isabella quagga to be Le
Vaillant’s zebre, however Hamilton Smith disagreed with their opinion.

the rest of Hamilton Smith’s account consisted of a verbal description of the
isabella quagga pores and skin (augmenting the engraving of this animal portrayed within the
dwelling state), which included his perception that it was an grownup fairly than a
juvenile specimen regardless of its small measurement, and was not albinistic. Conversely,
when concluding his account by mentioning {that a} Dr Leach had believed the pores and skin
(which nonetheless existed on the British Museum at the moment) to have initially
come from the Cape, he conceded that Leach had thought-about its pale colouration,
particularly its white stripes, to be as a result of animal’s ‘nonage’ (younger age).

it needs to be famous right here that again in Hamilton Smith’s time, there was a
considerably naïve however very prevalent tendency amongst taxonomists to over-emphasise
the importance of particular person variation inside species, resulting in the
splitting off and naming of many spurious animal species that in actuality had been
nothing greater than freakishly-coloured/patterned people of already recognized,
confirmed species. Finally, nevertheless, such shortcomings had been rectified by
lumping these unsubstantiated species again collectively – as occurred with the
isabella quagga, subsequently being subsumed by zoologists into the conventional quagga
species (now subspecies).


The currently-unsourced full-colour engraving of
the isabella quagga (public area)

As for
the full-colour isabella quagga engraving: regrettably, I’ve not recognized
its unique revealed supply to this point, however my seek for it continues.

of such issues, the 2 engravings readily verify my early deductions as to
the isabella quagga’s doubtless look – particularly, an aberrantly pale,
isabelline-coloured quagga with solely very faint, white striping.

seen a number of complete lists of quagga materials at the moment housed in
museums worldwide, I can verify Lydekker’s assertion that the isabella quagga
pores and skin deposited by Burchell at what’s now London’s Pure Historical past Museum is not any
longer there, and is subsequently misplaced. Presumably it was discarded resulting from its
very poor situation, however a tragic loss nonetheless of such an distinctive,
distinctive specimen, and which these days would possibly properly have yielded a lot helpful
info through DNA checks conducte3d upon samples of this pores and skin’s tissues.

regardless of the isabella quagga having lengthy since been diminished in standing from a
taxonomically-discrete species to a non-taxonomic mutant oddity, its delicate
pallid magnificence deserves to be remembered and celebrated. So I’m very glad that
I found this elegant animal hidden away because the briefest of footnotes inside
the dusty archives of the previous, and have been in a position to revive it, even when solely
in phrases and photos, inside this current ShukerNature weblog article, written
up ultimately.


a mounted quagga specimen at Tring Pure Historical past Museum, England (© Dr Karl


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