Threatened przewalski horse cloned from frozen zoo

An American zoo managed to clone a przewalski horse from genetic material that had been frozen for 40 years. According to the scientists, this could be an important innovation in breeding programmes: the new foal means more genetic diversity for its endangered species.

The stallion was born on 6 August at a horse cloning company in Texas. The genetic material that had been taken from a congener in 1980 had been put into a donor‘s egg there. That egg cell was then introduced into an ordinary mare, after which it grew into the foal.

According to the cloning company, this is the first time a przewalski horse has been cloned. It is also only the second endangered species to be cloned: 2003 was the first year for the bang-eng, a wild cow.

The foal is named Kurt, after one of the founders of the Frozen Zoo of San Diego. In that frozen zoo, 10,000 genetic samples of a thousand different animal species are stored. Among them are endangered species such as przewalskis, giant pandas and the cheetah, as well as an extinct bird species, the po’ouli.

The przewalski horse, named after the Polish colonel who discovered the horse in 1878, died out in the wild in the 1960s. Even in zoos, only 12 of them were still alive at one time or another.

A Dutch foundation set up a successful breeding programme with several zoos. Among others in Natuurpark Lelystad the animals were prepared for a return to the wild.

Meanwhile in China and Mongolia there are some wild herds again. However, with less than 2000 specimens worldwide, the species remains vulnerable. Because inbreeding can still be a problem in such a small population, the introduction of the new foal is good news.

When Kurt no longer drinks with his surrogate mother, he is transferred to San Diego. In five to ten years he can then be used for the breeding programme.