The world’s first successfully cloned Przewalski’s Horse is thriving, and will likely be able to be released into the wild! Kurt was born at ViaGen’s cloning facility in Texas in 2020. He’s a pandemic baby, but also a full-fledged miracle. He’s the first successful clone of a Przewalski’s Horse. Cryopreserved DNA of a male stallion that was frozen 42 years ago was used. The DNA was stored in the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Biodiversity Bank.
Kurt was implanted into a domestic quarter horse surrogate mother. The surrogate nursed him but since she was not a genuine Przewalski’s, he was unable to learn the language used by wild horses. But thanks to Kurt’s companion horse Holly, he has learned the language of wild horses, and can be released into the wild.
“Kurt’s birth was a major milestone for Przewalski’s horse conservation,” Oliver Ryder, Ph.D., Director of Conservation Genetics, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, said. “His success will serve as a model for saving endangered wildlife through the use of cloning, using DNA stored in the Wildlife Biodiversity Bank at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.”
After relocating to the San Diego Zoo, he was introduced to Holly. She had already learned how her herd interacted and was able to teach Kurt the ins and outs of horse etiquette. This is really important so he can integrate into a wild herd, because usually his mother would have taught him how and had already secured his place in the herd itself.
Przewalski’s Horses reach maturity at about 3-4 years. So the hope is that Kurt and Holly will procreate. If they do, scientists will have successfully begun to reintroduce some of the genetics lost to these wild horses over time. Once Kurt and Holly are released into the wild, the hope is for Kurt to become the main breeder in a herd.
These horses were formerly extinct in the wild. In fact the Przewalski’s horses that have survived for the past 40 years almost exclusively lived in zoos around the world. All of the surviving horses are related to 12 Przewalski’s horses born in the wild. Reviving genetic diversity by using the DNA used in creating Kurt that was stored in San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Biodiversity Bank is one step closer to expanding the strength of the species’ population.