Endangered Horse Species Given New Life In Canyon
I want you to meet Kurt. He is a colt that was recently born at Timber Creek Veterinary Clinic just northeast of Canyon. While this little guy may look like just any other horse, he holds a secret that will gain him international attention. Kurt is actually a Przewaslski's horse. Przewalski’s horses were considered extinct in the wild until the 1990s, when wild herds were reintroduced thanks to breeding programs.
So how did little Kurt end up being born in Canyon? He was cloned from the DNA of a male cryopreserved by the San Diego Zoo in 1980. All of the living horses are related to 12 that were born in the wild, so there’s a lack of genetic diversity. Maintaining genetic variation is likely to be an important part of ensuring the species’ survival in the future, according to the San Diego Zoo.
“This is the only horse that’s still considered wild on the planet today,” said world-renowned equine cloning expert Dr. Gregg Veneklasen, owner of Timber Creek Veterinary and an adjunct professor at West Texas A&M University and Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine.
That’s where cloning comes in. Venklasen works with ViaGen Equine, which has foaled hundreds of cloned horses over the past 15 years. ViaGen partnered with the zoo and Revive & Restore, a leading wildlife conservation organization that focuses on increasing biodiversity through genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species.
“This new Przewalski’s colt was born fully healthy and reproductively normal,” said Shawn Walker, chief science officer at ViaGen Equine. “He is head butting and kicking when his space is challenged, and he is demanding milk supply from his surrogate mother.”
“This is world-class science,” said Dr. Lance Kieth, department head of agricultural sciences at WT. “And this stuff is happening right here. WT is blessed to have Gregg as part of our program.”
Veneklasen’s clinic will board the foal until it is weaned from his mother in about five months. In the meantime, he’s a living example of advances in conservation efforts and the need for genetic diversity for WT veterinary and animal science students, including those in the new VERO (Veterinary Education, Research, and Outreach) program. VERO’s 2+2 veterinarian training program will allow Texas A&M veterinary students to elect to spend their first two years on WT’s campus for increased exposure to large animal needs in rural communities.