The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance welcomed the bouncing baby boy on February 17.
Pronounced “shuh-VAL-skees,” the Przewalski’s horse is the last truly wild horse species, diverging from the domestic horse over 500,000 years ago. But the roughly 2,000 left in the wild are descendants of just 12 individuals. That’s a huge problem for the future survival of the species.
So in 2018, Revive & Restore, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and ViaGen Pets and Equine launched a collaboration to clone the world’s first Przewalski’s horse from a cell line that had been cryopreserved since the 1980s. The venture resulted in the birth of Kurt on August 6, 2020.
Kurt currently lives at the San Diego Zoo with Holly, a young mare and potential future mate.
But the story doesn’t end there, because Kurt now has a little “brother.”
The new colt that Equus reported was nicknamed Trey was born on February 17, 2023. Trey is a genetic twin to Kurt, having been born from the same preserved cell line.
“He has been a healthy, amazing foal from birth,” Blake Russell, president of ViaGen Pets & Equine, told Equus. “He was up and nursing within a few minutes, and only slows down for his regular naps. We are thrilled to be a part of this effort, and look forward to more milestones ahead.”
The youngest clone will remain at ViaGen Pets & Equine’s facility in Texas for a while, as did Kurt, who moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park about eight months after his birth. The zoo hopes both horses will become breeding stallions at about 3 to 4 years of age. They would add valuable genetic diversity to the breed.
All of which seems like a happy story, but cloning horses, since its origins in the early 2000s, has always been a bit… err, controversial.
Yet time and science march on. Clones are now competing in almost every equestrian sport, with many excelling at the top of their discipline.
Back in 2017, during a polo clinic with Adam Snow, I asked Adam how he felt about Adolfo Cambiaso’s infamously cloned polo horses. I remember him being quite reticent with the question, noting Cambiaso’s obvious success with the cloned mounts, and then more passionate as he began to reminisce about a lifetime of horses he had owned, played and loved.
“What would have happened if I found just one and stuck with it for the next ten years? Twenty? The rest of my life?” I remember him asking with a shrug.
What do you think, Horse Nation? To clone or not to clone?
If the answer is yes, do you think cloning should be used only to protect endangered breeds, or is it a viable option for all horses?
Just out of curiosity, I checked, and it will cost you a mere $85,000 at ViaGen if you want a clone today. But, hey, shipping is free.
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.