SAN DIEGO — The world’s first successfully cloned Prezwalski’s horse has been introduced to a member of his own species to begin learning their ways, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance announced.
Kurt, the cloned horse, was born in August 2020 from the DNA of a male Prezwalski’s horse that was preserved 42 years ago. He was born to a surrogate mother who was a domestic quarter horse, which means he had no experience with a horse of his own species, according to zoo officials.
To help him learn the ways of Prezwalski’s horses, Kurt has been placed with Holly, a young female of the same species, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SDZWA said.
Holly, who is just a few months older than Kurt, was raised in a herd of Prezwalski’s horses. Wildlife care specialists placed them together with the hopes that Holly can serve as a mentor and teach Kurt the language of their species.
“Przewalski’s horses normally live in groups where a youngster secures their place in the herd from their mother,” said Kristi Burtis, DM, director of wildlife care for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Because Kurt was not born into a herd, he didn’t know the behavioral language that is unique to Przewalski’s horses. Our first step to socialize him was introducing him to Holly.”
After some brief sparring after being introduced, Kurt and Holly have began to show affection to each other, running around and playing with one another, according to SDZWA.
The pair was initially introduced in a secluded area at the Safari Park, but they have since been moved Central Asia field habitat, where they can be seen by park guests. Zoo officials believe the move will prepare them to join a larger herd of Prezwalski’s horses.
The plan for Kurt is for him to become a breeder stallion when he reaches maturity at three to four years of age, SDZWA said.
“Kurt is significant to his species because he offers the hope of bringing back lost genetic diversity to the population,” said Nadine Lamberski, DVM, Dipl. ACZM, Dipl. ECZM(ZHM), chief conservation and wildlife health officer with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “It is imperative to do everything we can to save this genetic diversity before it disappears.”
Prezwalski’s horses were formally extinct in the wild, with species surviving almost entirely in zoos for the past 40 years. Each surviving horse is related to 12 Prezwalski’s horses that were born in the wild, according to SDZWA.