The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) had a lot to celebrate this past holiday season with the arrival of a Przewalski’s horse foal born on Christmas Day. The Przewalski’s horse is a critically endangered species of wild horse that was categorized as extinct in the wild until 1996. The foal, a filly, is the first Przewalski’s horse born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park since 2014, and is one of only four individuals born in North America over the past year.

“Every birth is a tremendous moment, so we are elated by this new foal,” said Kristi Burtis, wildlife care director at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We’ve had more than 157 Przewalski’s horses born at the Zoo and the Safari Park. They are an important wild horse species, and this new foal, along with each individual that was born at our parks, bolsters their fragile population—and represents our deep commitment to conserving them for future generations.”

The filly foal was born as part of a breeding a program to ensure genetic diversity of Przewalski’s horse populations, overseen by conservationists nationwide and is known as AZA’s Przewalski’s horse Species Survival Plan.

According to a release issued by the San Diego Zoo, the Przewalski’s horse has survived for the past 40 years almost entirely in zoos around the world, and nearly all of the surviving horses are related to 12 Przewalski’s horses born in native habitats. Ongoing reintroductions of Przewalski’s horses into their native habitats have established several herds in grasslands in China and Mongolia to maintain genetic variation; however, scientists believe more work needs to be done to ensure the species’ future survival.

In an attempt to bring the horse back from the brink, scientists began using new tools, such as San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Biodiversity Bank, to expand the strength of the species’ population. Science teams from the nonprofit Revive & Restore, the animal cloning company ViaGen Pets & Equine, and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance were able to achieve the world’s first successfully cloned Przewalski’s horse in 2020. Kurt was born to a surrogate mother — a domestic quarter horse — and is the clone of a male Przewalski’s stallion whose living cell line was cryopreserved 43 years ago in the Alliance’s Frozen Zoo, part of the Wildlife Biodiversity Bank.

Watch a video of the new foal and her dam here: