White rhinos at San Diego Zoo may be able to save another nearly extinct rhino species

Their names are Victoria and Amani. They’re two female southern white rhinos who live at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and they’re both pregnant. Victoria is due to give birth in July or August. Amani’s baby is expected in November or December.

Anytime an animal as majestic as these rhinos is about to give birth, it’s a reason to celebrate, but it turns out that Victoria and Amani may also be able to save another species of rhino that has almost been poached out of existence, Mother Nature Network reports:

“If their pregnancies through artificial insemination are successful, it could be a significant step in helping the northern white rhino recover. Although both are carrying southern white rhinos, their pregnancies are part of a careful testing process for southern white rhinos to eventually serve as surrogate mothers of baby northern white rhinos.

“Only two northern white rhinos, a distant subspecies, are alive; both are female but neither can bear a calf. The last male northern white rhino, named Sudan, was euthanized in March 2018 at a preserve in Kenya due to age-related health problems.”

Should the artificial insemination go as planned, a northern white rhino calf could potentially be born within the next 10 to 15 years, and the same process could be used to other endangered rhinos such as the Sumatran and Javan species.

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the cells of 12 northern white rhinos that are frozen and stored in a laboratory. Now they just need to match the sperm with eggs and implant a fertilized egg into one of the six female rhinos at the zoo.

The way the idea of surrogacy came about is a story of international cooperation and scientific ingenuity:

“Shortly after the announcement of Victoria’s pregnancy, an international team of scientists announced the successful creation of embryos from the sperm of deceased northern white rhinos and the eggs of southern white rhinos. They used electrical pulses to stimulate the sperm and egg to fuse together. After this success, the hope is they can extract eggs from the last two surviving northern white rhinos — who are currently living in a Kenyan national park under 24-hour guard.

“And in an encouraging test of that strategy, researchers announced in late June 2019 they had successfully transferred a test-tube embryo of a southern white rhino back into a female whose eggs were fertilized in vitro. The procedure took place at the Chorzow Zoo in Poland, the Associated Press reports, as part of the BioRescue research project aimed at saving the northern white rhino. This embryo is a southern white rhino, but it’s a key step in testing the process that scientists hope will eventually yield a newborn northern white rhino.”

Professor Thomas Hildebrandt, from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, believes the experimental procedure could provide hope for animal populations that have been decimated by poaching:

“This is the first positive proof that the entire procedure we’ve developed in theory can be successful.

“Everyone believed there was no hope for this subspecies. But with our knowledge now, we are very confident that this will work with northern white rhino eggs and that we will be able to produce a viable population.”

And since man is largely responsible for hunting these animals to extinction levels, it seems only fitting that humans also help restore the rhino population and then assure that this tragedy never happens again.

 

Featured Image Via Flickr

 

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Andrew Bradford
 

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