A California zoo has announced the birth of a critically endangered horse, a clone created with DNA preserved for 42 years.
- Almost all surviving Przewalski’s horses are related to 12 born in native habitats
- Kurt was born through a breeding program to boost genetic variation in the species
- Zoo officials say he “offers hope” to the population
The male Przewalski’s horse foal — part of a breeding program intended to increase the species’s genetic diversity — was the first born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park since 2014.
Named Kurt, the foal was born to a surrogate mother, a domestic quarter horse.
He is the clone of a male Przewalski’s stallion whose DNA was frozen 42 years ago in the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s (SDZWA) Wildlife Biodiversity Bank.
Wildlife care director Kristi Burtis said the birth was a “tremendous moment”, given the Przewalski’s horse was considered extinct in the wild until 1994.
The horse — also known as the Mongolian wild horse or the takhi — is shorter than domestic horses, and often has distinctive markings.
“We’ve had more than 157 Przewalski’s horses born at the zoo and the Safari Park,” Ms Burtis said.
“They are an important wild horse species, and this new foal — along with each individual that was born at our parks — bolsters their fragile population, and represents our deep commitment to conserving them for future generations.”
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According to SDZWA, almost all surviving Przewalski’s horses are related to 12 animals born in native habitats.
Several herds in China and Mongolia have been established to try to maintain genetic variation.
“Kurt is significant to his species because he offers the hope of bringing back lost genetic diversity to the population,” SDZWA chief conservation and wildlife health officer Nadine Lamberski said.
“It is imperative to do everything we can to save this genetic diversity before it disappears.”
Kurt is named after former zoo board member Kurt Benirschke, MD, who died in 2018 aged 94.