Published: Sun, July 08, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Northern white rhino 'could be saved from extinction'

Northern white rhino 'could be saved from extinction'

However scientists have a stock of stored frozen sperm from male northern white rhinos that could rescue the animal from extinction.

The worldwide team of researchers successfully managed to adapt reproduction techniques used in horses to the special circumstances of rhino species, opening up the potential to bring back the northern white from the brink of extinction. First, that rhino eggs can be captured from live females.

The resulting hybrid NWR-SWR embryos developed to the blastocyst stage. Female white rhinoceros ovaries are about 6.5 feet inside their bodies.

This process is technically very challenging.

"We are now able to acquire embryonic stem cells related to southern white rhinoceroses that contain all the properties of an undifferentiated cell with a high ability to differentiate", Galli said. This is a three-person job requiring a steady hand that can guide a needle of just over 1 millimetre in diameter and nearly 1 metre in length into the reproductive system via the rectum to capture the eggs. Since the females, a mother and daughter called Najin and Fatu, are unable to bear offspring themselves, the embryos would be implanted in a southern white rhino surrogate.

Can the research lead to a self-sustaining wild rhino population?

Scientists developed a hybrid embryo by combining the sperm of the northern white rhino and the egg of the southern white rhino, which population is now estimated at around 21,000 individuals, according to the zoo statement. While this only worked for southern white rhino embryos and not the hybrids, it did demonstrate the method could be successful.

Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, has died in Kenya at the age of 45, after becoming a symbol of efforts to save his subspecies from extinction, a fate that only science can now prevent. This method has previously been used successfully with mice.

This will probably not be enough to save a whole subspecies, so the team is also using stem cell and cloning technology to try to make pure northern white rhinos.

The study's author, Thomas B. Hildebrandt noticed that the disappearance of the Northern white rhinos - the largest representatives of the family - not caused by evolutionary failure, and the fact that their skin is protected from bullets. Of these 13 eggs, four developed into hybrid embryos.

"This would enlarge the founding diversity of the future NWR population substantially", the team said in a statement. Scientists are now waiting to see if the rhino will carry her baby to term.

More than 20 egg collections were performed among southern white rhinos from European zoos.

The rhino's disappearance has left a void in the region's ecosystem that could have significant impacts in the future, Hildebrandt said.

There are already southern white rhino now living and breeding in Uganda at the Ziwa Sanctuary. It struck a awful blow for the species, who were then functionally extinct.

The most endangered mammal in the world is the northern white rhinoceros.

The combination of stem cell research with newly developed artificial insemination technology provides scientists with a way to save critically endangered mammalian species.

Yet the use of assisted reproduction for wildlife conservation is still rare, according to a paper co-authored by Roth, having been met with a lot of resistance from within the animal conservation community. We can not afford to adopt a cavalier attitude toward extinction, as though animals were something to bring back at our leisure, he said. We need action now.

Unless the IVF techniques work out, these species are doomed to die. I hope in, let's say, three or four months, we could go to Kenya. Read the original article.

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