A zoo in the US state of Texas has succeeded for the first time in cloning a przewalski horse. These animals are hardly ever found in the wild. Scientists therefore call this achievement an important step for breeding programs of endangered species. The genetic material from which the animal was cloned had been frozen for no less than 40 years.
The przewalski horse is named after the Russian soldier Nikolai Przhevalsky, who discovered the species in the 19th century. The horses were originally found in the wild in Europe and Asia. Due to changes in its habitat, human presence and natural factors, the population of the przewalski horses declined rapidly. Since the 1960s, the animal has been virtually extinct in the wild. In zoos and other parks, the animals still survive. Meanwhile, there are some wild herds in China and Mongolia again, but the species remains exceptionally vulnerable with less than 2,000 individuals worldwide.
American scientists have now successfully cloned a przewalski horse for the first time. The project is a collaboration between the San Diego Zoo, the conservation organization Revive & Restore and the ViaGen Equine company. The foal, a stallion, saw the light of day on August 6, but the news was only now made public.
(Kitten severely abused in Mol: smeared with glue, put in plastic bag and malnourished.)
Frozen for 40 years
The genetic material from which the animal was cloned was collected from a stallion in 1980. That animal was born in the UK in 1975 and shipped to the US in 978. The frozen genetic material was injected into a donor egg from a mare this year. In August, he gave birth to a healthy foal named Kurt.
(Alarming WWF Report: 68 percent of animals surveyed have disappeared since 1970.)
The scientists argue that this achievement is an important step for the breeding programs of endangered species. Cloning could bring more genetic diversity to the existing, scarce populations.
“Advanced reproductive technology, such as cloning, can save animal species by restoring genetic diversity that would otherwise be lost,” Ryan Phelan, director at Revive & Restore, told CNN.
The San Diego Global Frozen Zoo, where the genetic material of the przewalski horse was preserved for 40 years, is something of a “frozen zoo”. The genetic material of a thousand animal species is stored there. There is also genetic material for other endangered species such as przewalskis, giant pandas and the cheetah, and even an extinct bird species, the po’ou. In 2003 a banteng, a wild bovine, was cloned.
One of the founders of that “Frozen Zoo” was Kurt Benirschke, after whom the foal is named. The animal is currently staying with its surrogate mother in the zoo. Once the animal is old enough, it goes to the San Diego Zoo. The intention is that he will be used there in 5 to 10 years for the breeding program.
(Hummingbirds have a striking nightlife: daily “mini hibernation”.)