Star of the Stripes

J.C Ewart with Burchell's zebra c.1900I have recently begun cataloguing the papers of James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), who was Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh from 1882 to 1927. Cossar Ewart was a pioneering zoologist and animal breeder who is probably best remembered for his work on cross-breeding zebras and horses. This work, written up as The Penycuik Experiments (1899), was instrumental in disproving the long-held theory of telegony, which held that the a sire could ‘infect’ the dam he serves by influencing the genetic inheritance of the offspring of subsequent sires.

To disprove this, Ewart cross-bred a zebra stallion with various mares of different breeds, which produced foals with zebra-like stripes. The mares were afterwards mated with horses of their own breeds, but these offspring never showed any evidence of having been affected by the previous zebra sire.

Cossar Ewart was also the driving force behind the establishment of a lectureship in genetics (1911) at the University, the first in the UK. He is pictured above with one of his prized zebras – an image which has already proved to be one of our most popular, as seen here

More about Cossar Ewart and his zebras to follow…

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