4 endangered species foals born at biology institute

The Smithsonian has seen the births of four Przewalski's horses within the past year. Roshan Patel/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal has had four Przewalski horse foals born this year, the largest number of births of the animals the institute has had in 28 years.

The horses are native to the Gobi desert region in Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, and are endangered in the wild, something that Dolores Reed, a supervisory biologist for ungulates at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute attributed to habitat loss and access to water.

“They have to compete with every increasing population,” Reed said. “And probably the most severe limiting factor is water access. Because when you’re in the Gobi desert, there’s only so many sources of water and a lot of the Gobi people water their herds and the horses avoid the people.”

Reed said that the biology institute bred all five of its females last year and that four of those females delivered babies.

The most recent birth occurred on May 29. The first birth of the year, a Filly named Dahlores, was born on March 20.

The three other horses, all colts, have not been named yet. The biology institute allowed the public to vote from a list of five names; the winning names will be released on Monday.

Reed said that the births are connected to a research plan aimed at perfecting an artificial insemination procedure for Przewalski horses.

“We haven’t had anyone pregnant in a couple of years,” Reed said. “And the younger females have never bred and so we wanted to make sure…that they’re viable.”

Eventually, the biology institute would like to be able to send semen to Mongolia and inseminate female Przewalski horses there.

“Then, [the females] could have the foals out in the wild,” Reed said.

Having an effective artificial insemination procedure would be cheaper and easier than having to ship a male horse all the way to Mongolia.

“It’s very cost-prohibitive, very expensive to physically move animals around,” Reed said.

Meanwhile, Reed said that the male foals will stay at the biology institute for about four years, when they become sexually mature. At that point, they might head to zoos.

“Most zoos have limited space, so they’d probably just prefer if we can hold them here to keep them here until that time, until they’re ready to use them as a breeder,” Reed said.