Week seven: QUAGGA (probability 21208), by David Sutton

The QUAGGA is an extinct subspecies of the zebra, once found in great numbers n South Africa. It is not to be confused with the QUOKKA, which is a small marsupial of Western Australia. The last wild quagga was probably shot in the 1870s, and the last quagga in captivity died in 1883 at a zoo in Amsterdam. Its name, which is thought to be onomatopoeic from its call, comes from the Khoikhoi language, spoken by a native South African people once called Hottentots; this term is now regarded as derogatory, but HOTTENTOT is still playable in Scrabble as the name of a small fish.

Somewhat confusingly, Chambers defines the quagga an 'an extinct wild ass', merely saying that it was related to the zebra. However, the African wild ass, which is believed to be the ancestor of the domesticated donkey, is an entirely different species. There are other wild asses, including the KIANG (or KYANG) of the Tibetan plateau, (also known as the CHIGETAI or DZIGGETAI, and the HEMIONE or HEMIONUS), and the ONAGER of central Asia (with plural ONAGERS, unlike ONAGER in the sense of an ancient military engine for throwing great stones, which can take a plural ONAGRI). The ONAGER is also known as the KULAN or KOULAN. The BURRO of America is feral rather than truly wild, being descended from domesticated donkeys introduced by the Spaniards.

And of course, always watch out for the chance to extend CARD to CARDOPHAGUS (plural CARDOPHAGI), an obsolete name for an ass or donkey, from the Greek meaning 'thistle eater'.


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