‘Could save species’: the world’s first IVF rhino pregnancy

There are just two northern white rhinos left in the world, therefore a fertility discovery may be able to prevent their extinction. Scientists have successfully implanted a lab-created rhino embryo into a surrogate mother to establish the first-ever IVF rhino pregnancy. Southern white rhinos, a closely similar subspecies of northern white rhinos, were used for the surgery. Repeating this process with northern white embryos is the next step.

“To achieve the first successful embryo transfer in a rhino is a huge step,” scientist Susanne Holtze of the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research said. The institute is a member of the international consortium working on the Biorescue project, which aims to save the rhinoceros. Once widespread throughout central Africa, northern white rhinos were exterminated by illegal poaching motivated by the market for rhino horn. There are currently just two rhinos left: Najin and her daughter Fatu, both female. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya is home to the two former zoo animals, who are both kept under strict protection.

Since the species cannot procreate, it is officially extinct. However, in an attempt to save these animals from extinction, the Biorescue team is now relying on cutting edge reproductive science. They used southern white rhinos to begin their job. With a population in the thousands, this near relative of the northern whites is regarded as a conservation success story, despite ongoing threats from poaching. The experiment took years to complete and faced numerous obstacles, such as figuring out how to extract eggs from the two-ton animals and developing the first-ever rhino embryos in a lab and determining the best time and method for implanting them.

 

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