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Race to save rhino species kicks off

By Caroline Chebet | Aug 22nd 2019 | 3 min read
Female Northern White Rhinoa Fatu (left) with her mother Najin grazing on March 31,2018. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

The long-awaited process of ova pick-up from the remaining two northern white rhinos for purposes of artificial fertilization took place yesterday at Olpejeta Conservancy in Laikipia.

In a statement released by Ol Peta conservancy, Kenya Wildlife Service and other international organizations, the procedure was conducted by a consortium of scientists and conservationists in the race to save the sub-species from extinction.

“There are only two Northern White Rhinos left on the planet. The only hope rest on scientific techniques of assisted reproduction techniques developed by an international consortium of scientists and conservationists. Today, the consortium has reached another milestone during a procedure that took place at Olpejeta conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya,” the press statement read.

The procedure of picking ova, artificial fertilization and implanting the embryo is censured to involve several states each playing key roles in a move to salvage the northern white rhinos following the death of the only male named Sudan last year.

The process entails harvesting of the ova which, a process that takes place in Kenya, fertilization, which is expected to take place in laboratories in Italy and finally implantation which is expected to take place back at Ol Pejeta Coservancy.

The two remaining females have challenges with reproducing naturally and conservation experts and scientists bank on artificial fertilization of the species as the only way to save the sub-species.

In the procedure, scientists and researchers are expected to develop an embryo using sperms from northern white rhino collected previously and fertilize it with ova collected from the two females to create a hybrid northern white rhino species.

The embryo will then be implanted in to a surrogate southern white rhino who will carry the pregnancy to term at Ol Pejeta conservancy.

Barely a month ago, was a Southern White rhino conceived through artificial insemination born at the San Diego Zoo in what was called a historic milestone that could help save a subspecies from extinction. 

The successful birth has raised hopes that artificial insemination could help efforts to genetically recover the northern white rhino, a distant subspecies of the southern white rhino.

“The first successful artificial insemination birth of a southern white rhino in the United States witnessed recently gives us hope for continuity of the northern white rhino species right here on Ol Pejeta,” Ol Pejeta conservancy noted on August 14, this year.

The older female rhino, named Najin, is 29 but has weak knees, meaning she cannot bear the weight of pregnancy while and her daughter Fatu is 19 and too, has weak knees and a uterine disorder, a situation that cannot allow for the embryo to be implanted successfully.

Surrogate mothers, close relatives-the southern white rhinos, will however offer help in carrying the pregnancy. The candidates, have also been kept under close monitoring within the endangered species enclosure where the two northern white females reside at the conservancy.

The conservancy’s head of wildlife Mr Samuel Mutisya told the Standard recently that the process took longer because of the technicalities in logistics that would involve several states, scientists and conservationists.

“The process has taken longer because it needed a lot of planning and logistics since it involves several countries and several experts. All, has however been set,” he added.

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