A cloned horse could ensure the future of endangered species

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A cloned horse that could be an important key to reviving an endangered species was recently put on public display at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Przewalski’s horse is a short, stocky species with a striped mane and no forelock.

There is a small captive herd at Safari Park, and it is hoped that the cloned animal, known as Kurt, will one day breed with the mares there.

“We expect Kurt to produce many offspring here,” said Oliver Ryder, director of Conservation Genetics at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “We’re also looking at making more copies of Kurt because he’s so valuable. And it’s possible that eventually Kurt will go to another institution. To allow for the establishment of this lost genetic variation.

Kurt was born in the summer of 2020 at the facilities of animal cloning company ViaGen in Texas. He just arrived in San Diego.

The animal’s DNA was frozen more than 40 years ago and stored in the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo, a repository for cell samples from thousands of animals.

Przewalski’s horse population became extinct in the wild and was saved through a coordinated breeding program of the captive population.

Reintroduction programs in Asia mean the horse lives in the wild again, but the captive breeding program has also cost the species some genetic diversity, which is crucial for long-term survival. .

Kurt could change that as his genes are no longer represented in the species.

“We are restoring genetic variation,” Ryder said. “Go back in time or reverse the process of loss of genetic variation.”

But before that happens, the Researchers must teach Kurt how to be Przewalski’s horse.

They started by introducing him to a young woman, Holly, at Safari Park.

Their isolated habitat is near a paddock housing a small herd of Przewalski’s horses.

“They get to see this larger herd of horses on the hill above their habitat,” said Gavin Livingstone, curator of mammals at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “And so that they can communicate and vocalize back and forth and continue to spread those behaviors and teach Kurt all those necessary and important riding skills.”

It is hoped that Kurt will one day become the main stallion of the local herd, adding his genetic signature to the entire population. Right now he is learning to be a wild horse.

“It’s important that he has the natural social skills of one because he needs them to be a productive member of Przewalski’s equestrian society,” Livingstone said.

The horse is named after Kurt Benirschke, one of the main proponents of the creation of the San Diego Zoo’s conservation efforts and the Frozen Zoo. Benirschke died in 2018.

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