Plans to save northern White Rhinos back on track

Rhino caregivers James Mwenda (left) and Zachary Mutai with the only remaining Northern White Rhinos at Ol pejeta Conservancy in Lakipia County on March 22, 2018. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Researchers in Europe have created the first-ever hybrid rhino embryo, marking a major breakthrough in the race to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

The announcement was made by Ol Pejeta Conservancy, home to two of the world's last remaining northern white rhinos.

“We are thrilled to share the news announced today in a press release by our partners - the Dv?r Králové Zoo and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) - that the first ever hybrid rhino embryo has been successfully created by Avantea, their associates and world leaders in assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) for large animals in Italy,” a statement released last week said.

An embryo

The scientists used a southern white rhino egg and northern white rhino sperm collected previously, and developed an embryo said to stand ‘a strong chance of surviving to term’.

“This means they have the technology and experience to replicate the procedure with pure northern white rhino genetics,” the statement read.

In March this year, the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died, dealing a blow to conservation efforts of the species. The race to save the northern white rhino from extinction intensified following the death of Sudan; especially after it was reported that two of the world's last remaining northern white rhinos had reproductive challenges.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy said they might soon host the scientists to harvest ova from the remaining two females, Fatu and Najin.

Once eggs are harvested, a process ‘of bringing a species back from the very brink of extinction’ starts.

“In the meantime, we will carry on taking the best possible care of Fatu and Najin and the herd of southern whites specifically selected to one day, hopefully, become surrogates for northern white rhinos,” read the statement.