Cloning San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
Ollie the Przewalski’s horse. Photo credit: @sandiegozoo via X, or Twitter

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is now home to the world’s second cloned Przewalski’s horse, a critically endangered species once thought extinct, it was announced Thursday.

The foal, born Feb. 17, 2023, and his surrogate mother, a domestic quarterhorse, were recently moved from his birthplace at the ViaGen Pets & Equine cloning facility in Texas so he can learn how to be a wild horse from his own species, according to a statement from the zoo.

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 the 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 Frozen Zoo of the wildlife alliance’s Biodiversity Bank.

Formerly extinct in the wild, the species has survived for the past 40 years almost entirely in zoos. Nearly all of the surviving horses are related to just 12 Przewalski’s horses born in native habitats, the zoo said.

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 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 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 wildlife alliance statement said.

Kurt is learning the language of being a wild horse from his companion, Holly, a young female of his own species. Eventually, officials said, they plan for Kurt and Ollie to become breeding stallions. They will 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.

– City News Service