SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is now home to the world's second successfully cloned Przewalski's horse, a critically endangered species previously considered extinct in the wild until 1996, it was announced today.
The foal, born Feb. 17, 2023, and his surrogate mother, a domestic quarter horse, were recently moved from his birthplace at ViaGen Pets & Equine cloning facility in Texas so he can learn the language of being a wild horse from his own species, a statement from the zoo reads.
The foal was given the name ``Ollie'' in honor of Dr. Oliver Ryder, director of Conservation Genetics at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Ryder began his career at the zoo in 1975 under the guidance of Dr. Kurt Benirschke, who was instrumental in founding the conservation research program at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
"It is an honor to have studied and worked with so many others on the conservation of this special animal and to see come alive the possibility of using advanced genetic and reproductive technologies to sustain resilient populations in human care and in their native habitat,'' Ryder said.
The world's first cloned Przewalski's horse, Kurt -- named after Benirschke and also living at the Safari Park -- is the genetic twin of Ollie, as he was born in August 2020 from the same stallion's living cell line. That cell line was cryopreserved more than 40 years ago in the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Biodiversity Bank's Frozen Zoo.
Formerly extinct in the wild, the species has survived for the past 40 years almost entirely in zoos, and nearly all of the surviving horses are related to just 12 Przewalski's horses born in native habitats, a zoo statement reads.
The species has since been reintroduced to its native grasslands in China and Mongolia, but scientists say there is more work to be done to ensure genetic variation and thus the species' survival.
Przewalski's horses normally live in groups, where a youngster secures their place in the herd from their mother. Because Ollie was born to a domestic horse, he has not yet had experience with other Przewalski's horses.
"Eventually, San Diego Zoo Safari Park wildlife care experts will work to ensure he gains the unique behavioral language he will need to interact and thrive among the larger herd of Przewalski's horses at the Safari Park, including Kurt,'' a statement from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance reads.
``Kurt is currently learning the language of being a wild horse from his companion, Holly, a young female of his own species. The plan is for Kurt and Ollie to become breeding stallions when they reach maturity at about 4 years of age.''
Ollie and his surrogate mother will temporarily live in a secluded, private habitat off view from guests until he is ready to be introduced to other horses of the species.
Safari Park guests may see Kurt and Holly in the park's Central Asia field habitat.
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