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Rebuilding the Rare Extinct Quagga with 3D Printing & Scanning

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Jack Ashby and the rare quagga skeleton.

Jack Ashby and the rare quagga skeleton

A quagga looked like a cross between a zebra and a horse, and though there’s debate over whether a quagga was related to the plains zebra, some authorities have described the quagga as a kind of wild horse rather than a zebra.

One thing is known, the quagga was perhaps the first extinct animal to have its DNA analyzed back in 1984, and those studies launched the field of ancient DNA analysis.

London’s Grant Museum of Zoology just happens to have had an extremely rare, but neglected, quagga skeleton which was missing a leg and mislabeled as a zebra for many years. Now the remains of this rare zoological museum specimen – a species which was hunted to extinction in South Africa – is back on all four legs thanks to 3D printing.

The restorers recreated the missing limb by scanning and flipping the existing right hind leg to replace the missing left leg, and Jack Ashby, the manager at the Grant Museum of Zoology in London, says it’s one of only seven quagga skeletons known to exist in the world.3779

“Not only does it add a fantastic chapter to a specimen with so many stories, but the new leg also makes the whole skeleton more stable,” Ashby says.

At one point, the quagga roamed the South African plains in large numbers, and they were easily identified by their half plain brown, half striped hide. It’s thought that the last of the beasts died in Amsterdam during the summer of 1883. At the time, no one understood the significance of the animal’s death, but when hunters were sent out to find a new specimen for the zoo and came up empty, the scientific community realized that the quagga was extinct.

The Grant Museum now counts the quagga skeleton as one of its most important possessions, but the rare bones sat recognized for decades when it was incorrectly cataloged as a zebra. In 1972, scientists were closely examining what they believed to be the museum’s pair of “zebras” only to discover that one was a donkey, and the other, a quagga. The quagga was, unfortunately, missing one leg (perhaps unreturned from being loaned out for study), and museum staff made efforts to remedy that problem.3d printed quagga

“The files are full of copies of letters from my predecessors saying: ‘Have you by any chance got our quagga leg and if so can we have it back?’” Ashby says.

Now the quagga has been restored to its former glory as part of the Grant Museum’s Bone Idols project. That project is tasked with completing the restoration of some 39 of the largest and most important specimens in the museum collection.

ct scan quagga

Nigel Larkin with the quagga bone ready for CT scan

Working in conjunction with the Royal Veterinary College and the Bartlett Manufacturing and Design Exchange at University College London, the team rebuilt the skeleton and that process included scanning the remaining hind leg with a CT machine.

The bones of the missing leg were then printed in nylon (in black, to clearly mark which are not originals) and articulated by Nigel Larkin to complete the quagga and restore the skeleton to its former glory.

Have you ever heard of other instances where extinct animals were repaired or reimagined with 3D printing technology? Let us know in the 3D Printed Quagga forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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Photo: Nigel Larkin

larkin tweet bones

Larkin compared the original and 3D printed (black) quagga bones

 

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