Conservationists at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance are celebrating the arrival of a new addition to their Przewalski’s horse population. The birth of this critically endangered species of wild horse is a major event, as the species was classified as Extinct in the Wild until 1996. This is the first Przewalski’s horse to be born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park since 2014 and one of only four born in North America over the past year.
Kristi Burtis, the wildlife care director at the Safari Park, expressed her excitement and elation over the birth of the foal. With over 157 Przewalski’s horses born at the Zoo and Safari Park, Burtis emphasized the significance of each individual birth as it contributes to the growth and preservation of this important species.
The new foal was born as part of a breeding program overseen by conservationists across the country through the Przewalski’s horse Species Survival Plan. This program ensures genetic diversity is maintained within the Przewalski’s horse populations. Despite being extinct in the wild for the past 40 years, the species has survived mainly in zoos around the world, and the majority of surviving horses are related to only 12 individuals born in their native habitats.
Reintroductions of Przewalski’s horses into their native habitats in China and Mongolia have established several herds, however, scientists believe that much more work needs to be done to guarantee the survival of this species for future generations. The birth of this new foal represents a significant step towards the conservation and preservation of this endangered species for future generations to appreciate.
An effort to increase the population
Scientists have been utilizing innovative techniques, such as the Biodiversity Bank from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, to enhance the quantity of endangered species populations. Through a collaboration between the non-profit Revive & Restore, the animal cloning company ViaGen Pets & Equine, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, they accomplished a groundbreaking feat in 2020 – the successful cloning of the first ever Przewalski’s horse. This foal, named Kurt, was born to a domestic quarter horse surrogate and is a clone of a male Przewalski stallion whose living cell line was preserved in the Frozen Zoo, part of the Wildlife Biodiversity Bank, 43 years ago.
According to Nadine Lamberski, Chief Conservation and Wildlife Health Officer for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, Kurt is an important milestone for the species, as he symbolizes the possibility of restoring genetic diversity that was once lost. It is imperative to conserve this diversity before it disappears. The name Kurt was chosen in recognition of Kurt Benirschke, a medical doctor who joined the research committee at the San Diego Zoo in 1970 and played a critical role in establishing the conservation research program, including the Frozen Zoo, at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. He served as the director of research from 1974 to 1986, and later became a member of the organization’s Board of Trustees, before passing away in 2018 at the age of 94.
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Visitors to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park can observe Kurt, the world’s first successfully cloned Przewalski’s horse, in the Central Asia savanna habitat. They can also view the rest of the herd, including the recent newborn foal, in the neighboring Przewalski’s horse habitat.
About the zoo
Their expertise, resources, and the renowned Wildlife Biodiversity Bank are leveraged to create coordinated and impactful efforts. The Alliance has successfully reintroduced over 44 endangered species back into their native habitats. They also reach a global audience of over 1 billion people each year through various channels such as news and social media, educational resources, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers TV program, which is available in children’s hospitals in 13 countries. The zoo is completely dedicated to the mission of wildlife conservation.
In conclusion, the successful cloning of Kurt, Przewalski’s horse, marks a significant milestone in the conservation efforts of the endangered species. The collaborative effort of Revive & Restore, ViaGen Pets & Equine, and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance showcases the potential of modern technology in saving endangered species from extinction. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance continues to be at the forefront of innovative conservation efforts, working towards a world where all life thrives.