Photo: BioRescue/Jan Zwilling

Two Northern White Rhino Embryos Created as Scientists Race Against Extinction

Africa Kenya Wildlife News
by Olivia Harden Feb 22, 2022

After Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, died in 2018, it was up to science to save the species. One project has already made significant progress: BioRescue, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The consortium successfully created two new northern white rhino embryos between October 2021 and February 2022. This brings the total up to 14 northern white rhino embryos. Northern white rhino Fatu at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya provided the oocytes (egg cells). Then the eggs traveled to Avantea laboratory in Italy to mature and be inseminated. The embryos were then cryopreserved and will eventually be supported by southern white rhino female surrogates.

white rhino oocytes

Photo: BioRescue/Jan Zwilling

Northern white rhinos were almost poached to extinction for their horns in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In the ’90s and 2000s, the species also suffered from conflict in some parts of Africa. In 2009, two male rhinos, Sudan and Suni, and two female rhinos, Najin and Fatu, were moved from a zoo in the Czech Republic to the Ol Pejeta wildlife conservancy in Kenya, where they are guarded 24/7. Now, only the two female rhinos remain, and Najin was dropped from the breeding program in 2021.

The two procedures at Ol Pejeta mark the seventh and eighth successful oocytes collection conducted by scientists and conservationists of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Kenya Wildlife Service, Wildlife Research and Training Institute, and Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Since 2019, the team retrieved 119 oocytes from Fatu, which has resulted in 14 successful embryos. Eleven embryos were produced from Fatu and Suni, and three embryos were produced from Fatu and Angalifu, a white rhino who died in 2014 at the San Diego Zoo.

fatu the white rhino

Photo: BioRescue/Jan Zwilling

The project hopes they will be able to keep collecting oocytes from Fatu as long as it’s not dangerous to do so and the procedure continues to be successful.

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