The Animal Facts Editorial Team
April 20, 2023 10:39 am
Escondido, California, The United States
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance have announced the birth of the second even]r Przewalski's wild horse clone to be born. This foal was produced through a partnership between nonprofit Revive & Restore, the animal cloning company ViaGen Pets & Equine, and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, to bring back genetic diversity to the endangered Przewalski’s horse species.
This foal was born on Feb. 17, 2023 to a domestic horse mother who served as a surrogate.
“He has been a healthy, amazing foal from birth,” said Blake Russell, president of ViaGen Pets & Equine, describing the new Przewalski’s horse foal. “He was up and nursing within a few minutes, and only slows down for his regular naps. We are thrilled to be a part of this effort, and look forward to more milestones ahead.”
This latest arrival is the second wild horse produced through the cloning process. The first Kurt was born in August 2020 from the same stallion’s living cell line. He now lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
“The most transformative moments in conservation happen when the brightest minds collaborate and discover new possibilities for wildlife,” said Paul A. Baribault, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “Our work to rescue endangered species is possible because we’ve come together as an alliance of conservationists, whose goal is to help create a world where all life thrives. We are inspired by this incredible achievement and the impact it will have on Przewalski’s horses worldwide.”
Until now cloning has only been used to produce a single individual. This latest addition adds proof to benefits of cloning showing it to be increasingly viable as a method of species conservation and to assist in species management.
“This is a big deal for conservation,” said Ryan Phelan, co-founder and executive director of Revive & Restore. “Cloning as a tool for genetic rescue has been underutilized. Here, we have increasing evidence that cloning is a viable strategy to revive lost genetic diversity in endangered species.”
“Having two stallions of a genetically valuable line is a huge boost for the conservation of the species,” explained Ben Novak, lead scientist at Revive & Restore. “It means twice the potential to revive genetic diversity in this species.”
Globally the majority of the Przewalski's horse population is descended from just 12 horses collected from the wild which remained in zoos when the species went extinct in the wild. Ongoing efforts have returned the species to their former range in Mongolia and China over the past 40 years. Further efforts are needed to restore the genetic variation in this species.
Eventually the new foal will be moved from its birthplace at ViaGen Pets & Equine’s cloning facility in Texas to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Typically a young Przewalski's wild horse will gain its role in the herd from its mother. As this is not possible with Kurt and the new foal staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are working with Kurt to help him gain the unique behavioral language they will need to interact and thrive among the larger herd of Przewalski’s horses at the Safari Park. Kurt is learning this from his companion, Holly. This process will also be used with the new foal.
It is hoped that both cloned horses will eventually go on to become breeding stallions.
“Over the more than 100-year history of human management of Przewalski’s horses and their extinction in the wild, there have been multiple genetic bottlenecks that have diminished the gene pool of the species, including in its reintroduction into the wild,” said Oliver Ryder, Ph.D., Kleberg Endowed Director of Conservation Genetics , San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “It is an enormously hopeful, unprecedented step for the Frozen Zoo to have the capacity to restore genetic diversity and resiliency in the ongoing efforts to conserve the Przewalski’s horse.”
The Przewalski's wild horse is also known as the Mongolian Wild Horse or Takhi.
Image: © Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
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