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  • Writer's pictureZoe Cawthorn

New Hope: Breakthrough in Northern White Rhino Recovery Programme

You may remember reading about the death of ‘Sudan’, the last male northern white rhino last year? With only two northern white rhinos left in the world (both female), extinction seemed certain for this sub-species. However, pioneering assisted reproduction techniques have brought new hope for the survival of the northern white rhinoceros.

Photo: Northern White Rhino (Credit: Ami Vitale)

BioRescue, an international research and conservation consortium, is using assisted reproduction techniques (ATR) to bring the northern white rhinoceros back from certain extinction. New techniques for collecting immature eggs from the rhinos have been developed by cooperating zoos in Europe. In August, for the first time ever, northern white rhino eggs were collected from the two remaining females (‘Najin’ and ‘Fatu’) residing in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The eggs were air-lifted to the Avantea laboratories in Italy and fertilised with sperm from two deceased northern white rhino males.

The BioRescue consortium have now reported that two viable embryos have developed from one of the females’ eggs. The embryos have been frozen, ready to be transferred into a surrogate mother in the near future.

Photo credits: Ami Vitale & Jan Zwilling

“The entire team has been developing and planning these procedures for years”, says Prof. Thomas Hildebrandt from Leibniz-IZW. “Today we achieved an important milestone on a rocky road which allows us to plan the future steps in the rescue program of the northern white rhino”.

This breakthrough brings new hope to the conservation of the northern white rhinoceros, offering the possibility of recovering the ancient sub-species.

“Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was an almost unachievable goal – and today we have them. This fantastic achievement of the whole team allows us to be optimistic regarding our next steps…”, said Jan Stejskal, Director of Communication and International Projects from Dvůr Králové Zoo, where Najin and Fatu were born.

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