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Scientists Fertilise Two Northern White Rhino Eggs Out Of Seven Resulting In Embryos

by : Lucy Connolly on : 16 Sep 2019 16:45
Northern white rhinos embryosNorthern white rhinos embryosPA

Scientists have successfully created two northern white rhino embryos in a desperate bid to save the species.

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In total, seven eggs were harvested by scientists from the last two remaining females of the species – mother-daughter duo Najin and Fatu – although only two from the youngest, Fatu, made it to viable embryos.

The embryos will soon be transferred into a surrogate mother, due to both Najin and Fatu being too old to carry their own offspring.

Two last remaining northern white rhinosTwo last remaining northern white rhinosPA

To make the embryos, scientists injected Fatu’s eggs with frozen sperm from one of the last-deceased male northern white rhinos, Suni. Najin’s eggs were injected with another deceased male’s (Saut’s) sperm, but it was of ‘really poor quality’.

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According to a statement released by Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which collected the eggs approximately three weeks ago, one of Najin’s eggs initiated segmentation but neither made it to an embryo and it was ultimately unsuccessful.

Professor Thomas Hildebrandt from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), which helped with the process of egg collection, said the team has been developing and planning these procedures ‘for years’.

The professor added:

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.

Northern white rhinos embryosNorthern white rhinos embryosPA

Only last year, the last male northern white rhino on earth, Sudan, died, leaving just two female northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, both of whom are his direct descendants.

But there is still hope; as per the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the southern white rhino recovered from a population of fewer than 100 in the late nineteenth century, to just over 20,000 today.

The non-profit organisation described the latest development as a ‘turning point in the race to save the northern white rhino from near extinction’ in a tweet shared with their followers.

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And it certainly seems the most recent development only increases this hope, with the Director of Communication and International Projects of Dvůr Králové Zoo – where Najin and Fatu were born – describing the production of these embryos as a ‘fantastic’ achievement.

Jan Stejskal continued:

Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was almost unachievable goal – and today we have them. This fantastic achievement of the whole team allows us to be optimistic regarding our next steps.

In the coming months, Stejskal explained that scientists will be determining ways to ‘optimise the process of transfer’ and will be ‘following the development of an embryo in a body of a surrogate mother’ in cooperation with European zoos.

Hopefully the process of transferring the embryos to surrogate mothers will be successful and scientists will be one step closer to saving the northern white rhino.

What an impressive achievement, but the battle continues.

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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Animals, Extinction, rhinos, Science

Credits

Ol Pejeta Conservancy and 1 other
  1. Ol Pejeta Conservancy

    NEWS RELEASE

  2. WWF

    LAST MALE NORTHERN WHITE RHINO DIES