San Diego Zoo clones endangered horse
Kurt looks like any other colt while playing in his stable. He is not afraid to kick or head to an intruder who gets in his way, and when he is hungry he runs to his mother for milk.
But Kurt, who is 2 months old, differs from any other foal in a characteristic way: He is a clone .
The rare Przewalski horse, an endangered species, was created from cells taken from a stallion that had been frozen at the San Diego Zoo for 40 years before being fused with an egg from a domestic horse.
Once the nucleus of the ovum was removed, which guaranteed that Kurt would be fully Przewalski, the cells were implanted into the mare who would become his mother on August 6.
The result, officials say, is the world's first cloned Przewalski horse.
The zoo considers the birth a milestone in attempts to restore the population of this horse, also called the Asian wild horse or Mongolian wild horse. These small and robust animals (they are between 1.2 and 1.5 meters tall - 4 to 5 feet - up to the withers) are considered extinct in the wild and barely total about 2,000 in zoos and controlled habitats. Their limited set of genes puts them at a reproductive disadvantage.
This foal is anticipated to be one of the most genetically important individuals of its species, Bob Wiese, chief biological science officer at San Diego Zoo Global, which operates the zoo, said in a statement. We are hopeful that it will bring significant genetic variation to the future of the Przewalski horse population.
Although he's only two months old, Kurt's birth was made possible in 1980 when cells were taken from a 5-year-old stallion and frozen at the so-called San Diego Frozen Zoo. His father died in 1998.
Kurt was named in honor of Kurt Benirschke, who played a key role in the creation of the Frozen Zoo with his extensive research and cell culture program.
A central tenet of the Frozen Zoo, when established by Dr. Benirschke, was that it would be used for purposes that were not possible at the time, said Oliver Ryder, director of genetics at San Diego Zoo Global.
The zoo worked in collaboration with the California conservation group Revive & Restore and the ViaGen Equine Company of Texas to create Kurt. He was born in a veterinary facility in Texas where he will continue to live with his mother for probably another year.
He will eventually be integrated into the zoo's Przewalski horse population, where he is expected to one day become a father.
The Przewalski horses are named after the Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski, who discovered the skull and skin of a specimen and donated them to a Russian museum.
Those horses came to live throughout Europe and Asia, according to the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Institute for Conservation Biology. But in the long run the invasion of human populations and livestock displaced them from Europe to the east, to parts of Asia like the Gobi Desert . Outside of zoos, they only exist where they have been reintroduced in Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan.
According to the Smithsonian, they are the only true wild horses left in the world. The institute claims that wild herds in North America and Australia don't count because they are descendants of escaped domestic horses.