A breakthrough in fertility has raised hopes of saving the endangered northern white rhinoceros. There are only two animals of their kind left on earth.
Scientists have impregnated the world’s first rhinoceros using IVF technology, successfully transferring a rhinoceros embryo created in a laboratory to a surrogate mother.
The experiment was conducted with southern white rhinos, a subspecies of northern white rhinos.
The next step is to repeat this with the northern white embryos.
“The first successful transfer of an embryo into a rhinoceros is a huge step forward,” says scientist Suzanne Holtze of Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
“But now I think with this success, we are very confident that we will be able to breed the northern white rhino in the same way and that we will also be able to save the species,” he added. will.’
Northern white rhinos were once found in central Africa, but poaching led to the demand for rhino horn wiping them out.
Now, only two rhinos are left: two females, Nijan and her daughter Fatu. Kenya’s Ol Pegeta Conservancy keeps the two former zoo animals under tight security.
The species is technically extinct due to its inability to reproduce. Still, now, the rescue team has enlisted the help of radical fertility science to bring these animals back from the brink of extinction.
He started his work with the help of southern white rhinoceros. This close cousin of the northern white rhino has a population in the thousands.
The project has taken several years, and had to overcome many challenges. How to collect eggs from two-ton animals, create rhino embryos for the first time in the lab, and figure out how and when they will be used.
It took 13 attempts to achieve the first viable IVF pregnancy with southern white rhinos.
“In such a large animal, it is very difficult to have an embryo inside the reproductive tract, which is about 2 meters inside the animal,” Suzanne Holtzy told BBC News.
The embryo, created using the egg of a southern white female from a Belgian zoo, was fertilized with the sperm of a male rhinoceros in Austria and transferred to a southern white surrogate female from Kenya who became pregnant. was done
However, after this success, a sad incident happened.
‘Surrogate mother’ dies of Clostridia infection 70 days after conception. Clostridia is a bacterium found in soil and often fatal to animals.
This death was a big blow for the team. A post-mortem later revealed that the ‘surrogate mother’ had a 5.6cm baby in her womb at the time of death, with a 95% chance of being born alive.
But it proved one thing: it is possible to impregnate female rhinos through IVF technique. In the next step, this process will be tested on the embryos of northern white rhinos.
So far, there are 30 preserved specimens of white northern rhinoceros embryos in Germany and Italy. The samples were obtained before the deaths of a female rhino and two northern white rhinos in Kenya, but this will be the first scientific experience of the birth of a northern white rhino.
The remaining northern white rhinos cannot conceive due to advanced age and other health problems. For this reason, the embryo samples will be placed in the womb of a female southern white rhinoceros.
IVF has never been tested on two animal species before, but the team working on this project is confident that their experiment will be successful.
The Biorescue team hopes to be able to transfer the embryos in the coming months. They want this rhino to be born while some northern white rhinos remain alive.
‘We want to preserve the language of these animals, and this can only be done by releasing the baby northern white rhino so that it can spend time with the two surviving rhinos and learn their language from them. You can also learn how to behave.’
Researchers are also aware that other animal species cannot be spared from the IVF experiment by adding more animal genetics to the samples.
They are simultaneously working on more techniques to breed the rhinos further and collect more genetic samples, but the journey will have scientific challenges that must be overcome.
Other wildlife experts say that money and resources should be spent on saving other animals instead of on a species facing extinction.
However, Jan Steskal, associated with the Biorescue Project in the Czech Republic, says, “One thing we need to understand is that the reason for the extinction of northern white rhinos is humans, and it is happening because of greed.”
He said, ‘So in this way, we are also responsible for this situation, and we want to save these animals through this technique because it is our responsibility.’