Scientists Work to Save Persian Onager from Extinction

Researchers recently accepted the challenge of producing onager foals via artificial insemination.
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What do you do when you’ve got an endangered species of wild equid and your genetically matched mare and stallion are hundreds or even thousands of miles apart? Just round up said wild stallion and take him to your local breeding station so he can mount the dummy, right? Not exactly. And boarding him on a plane for a round-the-world tour isn’t exactly in his best welfare interest either—nor is it likely to be financially feasible, especially when budgets are limiting.

But breeding Persian onager stallions to mares in different parts of the world is exactly what scientists hope to accomplish in an effort to save the endangered species. Persian onagers are a rare species of Asian wild ass, native to Iran, which are today considered to be “critically endangered,” said Budhan S. Pukazhenthi, BVSc, PhD, reproductive physiologist at the Center for Species Survival in the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), in Front Royal, Virginia.

Although onagers breed naturally in zoos, Pukazhenthi said the goal is to reduce the risks of inbreeding. Currently there are fewer than 1,000 animals worldwide (including fewer than 30 in North American zoos).

The solution? Artificial insemination

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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