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Endangered Przewalski’s Horse Foal Cloned In a World First

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: September 5, 2020 9:28 pm

przewalski's horse foal San Diego Zoo

Kurt the Przewalski's horse foal

Photo Credit: Scott Stine

A world first has been achieved with the cloning of a Przewalski’s horse. The foal was born at the Texas veterinary facility of a ViaGen Equine collaborator, Timber Creek Veterinary. The birth of this foal restores previously lost genetics of this endangered species and was achieved as part of a partnership between Revive & Restore, ViaGen Equine and San Diego Zoo Global.

In honor of Kurt Benirschke, M.D., who was instrumental in founding the Frozen Zoo and the conservation research program at San Diego Zoo Global the colt was named Kurt.

“The work to save endangered species requires collaborative and dedicated partners with aligned goals,” said Paul A. Baribault, president/CEO of San Diego Zoo Global. “We share in this remarkable achievement because we applied our multidisciplinary approach, working with the best scientific minds and utilizing precious genetic material collected and stored in our wildlife DNA bio bank.”

przewalski's horse foal San Diego Zoo

The Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo where the genetic material was stored

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Global

This foal was born on August 6th 2020 to a domestic horse surrogate mother. The genetics of the foal are cloned from those of a male Przewalski’s horse whose DNA was cryopreserved 40 years ago at the San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) Frozen Zoo®. The horse from which the foal was cloned passed away in 1998.

With the arrival of this foal scientists are indicating that this could provide a model for future conservation efforts.

“This birth expands the opportunity for genetic rescue of endangered wild species,” said Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore. “Advanced reproductive technologies, including cloning, can save species by allowing us to restore genetic diversity that would have otherwise been lost to time.”

Once this foal has grown up it will move to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and be integrated with their herd of Przewalski’s horse.

przewalski's horse foal San Diego Zoo

Kurt the Przewalski's horse foal

Photo Credit: Scott Stine

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“This colt is expected to be one of the most genetically important individuals of his species,” said Bob Wiese Ph.D., chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global. “We are hopeful that he will bring back genetic variation important for the future of the Przewalski’s horse population.”


“A central tenet of the Frozen Zoo®, when it was established by Dr. Benirschke, was that it would be used for purposes not possible at the time,” said Oliver Ryder, Ph.D., director of genetics at San Diego Zoo Global. “Now, the living cells in the Frozen Zoo are contributing to reversing losses of genetic diversity and contributing to population sustainability. The cells of hundreds of Przewalski’s horses reside in the Frozen Zoo, and form the basis for new opportunities in applying scientific research to preserve species into the future.”


The Przewalski’s wild horse was previously extinct in the wild with numbers in zoos dropping as low as 12 at one point. Breeding programs in zoos have been instrumental in restoring their numbers and since the 1990s these horses have been returned to the wild.

przewalski's horse foal San Diego Zoo

The Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Zoo where the genetic material was stored

Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Global

While cloning techniques are well established for domestic horses and cattle they are not often used for endangered species.

“This new Przewalski’s colt was born fully healthy and reproductively normal,” said Shawn Walker, chief science officer at ViaGen Equine. “He is head butting and kicking, when his space is challenged, and he is demanding milk supply from his surrogate mother.”

Timber Creek Veterinary has worked with ViaGen Equine for over 15 years, foaling hundreds of cloned horses for clients around the world. “This Przewalski’s foal was produced using our proven equine cloning techniques,” said Blake Russell, president of ViaGen Equine. “Thanks to the Timber Creek team, this special foal is off to a great start.”

Learn more about the Przewalski’s Horse – Przewalski’s Horse Fact File | The Animal Facts

Learn more about San Diego Zoo Global on their website – San Diego Zoo Global

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