Scientists assert that it is possible to recreate the story of the northern white rhino using IVF – the most endangered mammal in the world. These scientists have used the method in producing rhino embryos using sperm drawn from two dead males.
The embryos were produced with the help of eggs from sub-species that were closely related, but Scientists assert that the approach could save the northern white rhino. One of the scientists in the team says that he is optimistic that within three years, a northern white rhino baby would be born.
The IVF method could offer a way of saving valuable genes from a sub-species that is almost extinct such as the last male northern white rhino- Sudan which died earlier this year aged 45. There are only two females remaining and the researchers’ who worked on this project are hopeful that the assisted reproduction could be successful with eggs drawn from the two animals.
Prof Thomas Hildebrandt says that it is not possible to access the ovaries by hand and that is why his team has created a special device. Therefore, his team will use ultrasound to inject a needle into the ovaries. The procedure was performed on a femalesouthern white rhino but while under a general anesthetic because the procedure is very risky.
However, once there has been safe extractionand preservation of the eggs, the team faced the challenge of fertilizing them with the male northern white rhino sperm. They, therefore, injected each egg with sperm from animals that died years ago and applied electrical current pulses to trigger the fusion of the egg and the sperm. Theresult was production of viable embryos comprising of genetic material from a functionally extinct sub-species.
These researchers are certain that this process could save the northern whiterhino. Dr. Terri Roth from Cincinnati Zoo refers to the team’s objective of having a baby on the ground within 3 years as optimistic. However, considering the fact that there are only two female northern white rhinos left, acquisition of eggs would be challenging and the produced embryos will need to be frozen until the setting up of a surrogate.
One may wonder why there are very few remaining northern white rhinos. Dr. Roth says that poaching is a significant threat to the rhino species. Therefore, the best way of saving the rhinos from extinction is by stopping poaching but it has proven difficult. Dr. Roth adds that it is necessary to learn from the northern white rhinos’ story to ensure that a similar plight does not befall other endangered species.