A team of American scientists from the San Diego Institute of Conservation Research have just announced a breakthrough that will allow them to successfully impregnate a surrogate Southern White Rhino through artificial insemination, signaling hope for the subspecies.
This news comes two month after the death of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, devastating news that shook the world as we saw effects of poaching pushing the subspecies to near extinction. Victoria, the seven year old Southern White Rhino and a distant relative of the Northern White Rhino, was impregnated using sperm samples harvested from Sudan months before his death and will be watched over the next year and a half to examine whether she will successfully deliver the calf. The first Northern White Rhino conceived through artificial insemination is expected to be born in May 2019.
“The corroboration of this pregnancy through artificial insemination is not only historic for our organisation but also provides a critical step in our effort to save the northern white rhino that is at the brink of extinction,” said Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive sciences at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “We spotted limbs during her recent ultrasound scan, which indicates that she is two months pregnant. Now we wait for her to carry the pregnancy to term before trying to implant the northern white stem cells into them as a surrogate,” continued Ms Durrant.
If the pregnancy is successful, the scientists hope to replicate the same procedure where they seek to create a herd of 15 Northern White Rhino and eventually relocate them back to their natural habitat in Africa paving a new era of restoring the subspecies. This process will take more than two decades to see its completion. “Just the fact that we have been able to confirm this pregnancy while the embryo is just a few weeks old is tremendously important and is all due to the work that animal care staff have put into developing relationships with these rhinos,” said Randy Rieches, Director of Curatorial and Husbandry Sciences for San Diego Zoo Global.
Victoria and other five rhinos selected will undergo weekly ultrasound scans to test whether they will make good surrogates that could save the northern white rhino subspecies. The Institution already has 12 frozen stem cells from the northern male rhino.
The death of Sudan left only two surviving female Northern White Rhino, Najin, 17, and Fatu, 27, who are too old to sustain pregnancy. For the first time we see hope for the subspecies but only time will tell. Currently the two are under supervision at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy where ovum pick up will be attempted under the supervision of KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) and if successful, their eggs will be transported to an Italian laboratory for further research of saving the Northern White Rhino from extinction through In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).