Kenya joins the world in celebrating World Rhino Day on Sunday, September 21, as it marks a key milestone in reversing imminent extinction of the critically endangered Northern White Rhinos.
Kenya, for the past few months, has been in the limelight, and a first in Africa to join efforts with a consortium of scientists and researchers in the production of the first-ever in-vitro embryos in the race against extinction.
A few weeks ago, a milestone expected to mark the turn of the tide of the nearly extinct northern white rhinos was achieved after a successful harvest of eggs from the remaining two northern white rhinos in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya for creation of embryos in Italian laboratories.
“The Kenyan government is greatly encouraged by breaking of new ground in the assisted reproduction technique and remains committed to facilitating the pioneering process all the way. It has been a decade of a race against time and we are excited at the progress in reversing the hitherto bleak outlook for the northern white rhino,” said Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala.
The milestone was undertaken by researchers and scientists who successfully reported to have created two rhino embryos. The milestone was achieved at Avantea Laboratories in Cremona, Italy using the eggs which were harvested on August 22 from Najin and Fatu, the two females living at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
In March 2018, the last male northern white rhino nicknamed Sudan, died, dealing a blow to conservation efforts of two remaining female species who have reproductive challenges.
But through pioneering in-vitro fertilization of the northern white subspecies, the Kenya Wildlife Service said partnerships towards recovering the species are key.
“The pioneering in vitro embryos of the northern white rhino is a strong testament to what committed partnership can achieve in pushing the frontiers of science to save a creature from extinction,” says Brig. (Rtd) John Waweru, the Director-General of Kenya Wildlife Service.
The assisted reproduction of the northern white rhinos has been praised as a pivotal turning point in the fate of the subspecies where the eggs collected from the two remaining females and frozen sperm from deceased males were used to successfully create the embryos.
The embryos are now stored in liquid nitrogen, expected to be transferred into a surrogate southern white mother at Ol Pejeta conservancy in the near future, according to the researchers.
“This is a major step forward in our efforts to recover the northern white rhinos. All concerned are to be hugely congratulated. We have a very long way to go and we must remember that for most species facing extinction, the resources that are being dedicated to saving the northern whites simply don’t exist. Global human behaviour still needs to radically change if the lessons of the northern white rhinos are to be learned,” says Richard Vigne, Managing Director of Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
The efforts are expected to bear fruits, also placing Kenya among top players in the conservation sector months after a southern white rhino conceived through artificial insemination was born at the San Diego Zoo.
The successful birth has also raised hopes that artificial insemination could help efforts to genetically recover the northern white rhinos.