The birth of a Przewalski's horse—the first in the world to be born via artificial insemination—has given the once decimated species new hope. The filly was born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, in July. She is one of an estimated 1,500 Przewalski's horses left in the world, most of which live in captivity.
Przewalski's horses are rare and endangered wild horses native to Mongolia. "They are not like our domestic horses," explains Budhan Pukazhenthi, a reproductive physiologist at SCBI. "We had to really start developing the infrastructure and a management plan to study this."
Pukazhenthi and his team spent nearly seven years on this project, first learning how to work with the wild animals to allow scientists to perform steps necessary for artificial insemination, and then determining how to create a viable pregnancy. Previous attempts to artificially inseminate mares were unsuccessful, but last year Pukazhenthi tried a different method that minimized the distance that the sperm had to travel to the uterus.
The new technique worked, making the yet-to-be-named filly the first Przewalski's horse of its kind. The team plans to try for more pregnancies using artificial insemination next year.
(See how the Przewalski's horse is faring near Chernobyl.)