Efforts to save northern white rhinos slated for October

Female Northern White Rhinoa Fatu (left) with her mother Najin grazing. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]
Scientists are expected to harvest ova from the world’s remaining two female northern white rhinos in Nanyuki in October.

The scientists are expected to conduct the procedure at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia County in an effort to save the sub-species from extinction.

The procedure will involve picking ova, artificial fertilisation and implanting the embryo.

The conservancy’s head of wildlife Samuel Mutisya said the long-awaited procedure, expected to draw global attention, is scheduled to take place in the next two months.

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“The plans are already set and we expect the procedure to kick off in the next two months where the world-re-known experts will be picking the eggs from the two females at Olpejeta for purposes of InVitro Fertilisation (IVF) set to take place in Italy,” Mr Mutisya said.

The procedure seeks to incorporate technology in efforts to breed the sub-species following the death of the last remaining male, nicknamed Sudan, in March 2018.

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

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

The process, he said, will entail harvesting of the ovum which is expected to take place in Kenya, fertilisation, which is expected to take place in laboratories in Italy and finally implantation which is expected to take place back at Olpejeta.

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

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

The procedure, was first tried last year by researchers in Europe after creating the first-ever hybrid rhino embryo, also marking a major breakthrough in the race to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

On Sunday, a southern white rhino conceived through artificial insemination was born at the San Diego Zoo in what was called a historic milestone that could help save a subspecies from extinction.

The calf was born on Sunday and the mother named Victoria remained calm during the 30-minute labor, zoo officials said in a statement.

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.

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white rhinosOl Pejeta Conservancy