For those of you who aren’t Canadian, to understand this story, you need to know about Heritage Minutes.
Heritage Minutes are one-minute TV spots about important moments in Canadian history. Every Canadian you will ever meet can quote at least three of them and will wax poetic about them if given the chance. Some of my favourites are the Women in Medicine one, the Bluenose‘s last race, and, of course, Tyrrell discovering dinosaur fossils in the badlands.
But the true gem of this collection is, was, and ever shall be the one about Winnie the Pooh:
Pooh Bear was named after a black bear at the London Zoo called Winnie, who had been brought over from Canada by one Lt. Harry Colebourne. He named her Winnipeg after his hometown in Manitoba. Apparently, Christopher Robin was a fan of this bear and named his teddy bear after her, then prompted his father to write stories about it.
Today I was watching this Heritage Minute because I have nothing else to do when I’m out of the field. And I noticed that at the 0:51 mark, there’s a strange creature with the front end of a donkey and the striped hindquarters of a zebra being led across a cobbled square at the zoo where Christopher Robin meets Winnie. What on earth is a quagga doing in that zoo?
Centre-background, just behind the pony: Is that a quagga?!
The quagga is an extinct relative of the zebra (oh hey, Wikipedia tells me that it was actually a subspecies of the plains zebra! Fancy that!) that was slightly less stripey than its extant cousins. But the last one died in 1883, while this Heritage Minute is supposed to take place sometime between Winnie’s arrival at the London Zoo in 1915 and the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926. And besides, all records of the quagga indicate that its forequarters were striped , while its hindquarters were plain.
A quagga, coincidentally at London Zoo – but long before Winnie arrived there.
What is this creature meant to be, then? It might be some hybrid between a zebra* and a horse or donkey – I’d guess donkey, given its appearance. These have been produced in captivity regularly and are known by various silly-sounding names like zorse, zedonk, and zony. They’re usually sterile, because horses, zebras, and donkeys all have different numbers of chromosomes (so their hybrid offspring can’t make proper eggs and sperm). They, like quaggas, are partially striped, often only on the legs. I can’t find a picture that looks precisely like our Heritage Minute beast, but many resemble it more than the quagga does.
A zorse, circa 1899.
Did London Zoo ever have a zedonk (or something like it)? Apparently yes, as I found this picture from 1936. However, that’s long after the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh. Maybe they had others before it. Or, more likely, maybe someone among the crew who produced Heritage Minutes had access to a zedonk (!!!) and a weird enough sense of humour to insert it into the TV spot. I am, to say the least, intrigued.
*Note that there are several species of zebra; apparently all of them have produced hybrids with horses, ponies, or donkeys.
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