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Embryos Created at Christmas Are Viable—Raising Hopes For the 2 Remaining Northern White Rhinos


Following its success in the past two years, the international collaborative effort to save the northern white rhino from extinction has removed an additional 14 eggs from Fatu, one of the two female rhinoceros that make up the remaining living rhinoceros of the species.

Scientists collecting eggs from Fatu, a female white rhinoceros: Ami Vitale / Ol Pejeta Conservancy

These would end up offering two viable fertilized eggs for the restoration programAnd while conservationists often use phrases like “a ray of hope,” this particular success goes beyond a ray of hope.

On a charter plane they left, spent the night from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to Milan, where they were taken to a laboratory in Cremona, Italy. There they were combined with frozen sperm from Suni, a deceased male rhino of the same species born in 1980.

BioRescue, an NGO headed by members of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, the Italian Avantea Laboratory in Cremona, the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, and Ol Pejeta in Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service , has been carrying out the project ever since. the last male rhino died in 2018.

They they now have a total of five fertilized eggs, which essentially gives them five chances to hit the next and most critical part: artificial insemination.

The edge of the abyss

The last two northern white rhinos: Ami Vitale / Ol Pejeta Conservancy

“We plan to have a calf on the ground in two to three years,” David Hildebrandt, a Berlin-based wildlife breeding expert, told Megan Bergman. The Guardian.

To complicate matters, neither Fatu nor her mother Najin can carry a rhino calf to term. BioRescue will use a surrogate for the southern white rhino subspecies that diverged around a million years ago.

To aid the scientists, a spayed southern rhino bull will accompany the female to help signal when she is in heat. Currently the embryos are stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen, at -196C °.

“Liquid nitrogen gives us time,” Hildebrandt explained, adding that it is vital that any living calf can join Fatu and Najin in life for at least a few years to learn vital information about the white rhino society.

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The embryos can work to prove the concept and create more life lines while science develops other, more radical methods to save the subspecies.

This could include the manufacture of eggs and sperm through Nobel Prize-winning scientist Shinya Yamanaka’s method of transforming skin cells into stem cells and stem cells into the cells that make up the sexual team.

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Apparently, there are incredibly enough skin cells to create a stable and genetically diverse population that would be raised by surrogates, protected in sanctuaries, until their 20s or 30s when they can reunite with the spirits of their ancestors on the open plains. from Kenya.

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