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June 25, 2024

Hope for World’s Most Endangered Rhino Species as Historic IVF Pregnancy Succeeds

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Jan 25, 2024

Conservationists and scientists are celebrating a major breakthrough this week in efforts to save the northern white rhinoceros from extinction. An unprecedented IVF procedure has resulted in a confirmed pregnancy for a southern white rhino surrogate mother carrying the embryo of the near-extinct northern subspecies.

Background on the Northern White Rhino’s Dire Situation

The profound news comes after years of intensive work to save the iconic giants as only two northern white rhinos now remain on Earth. The last breeding male, Sudan, died in 2018, leaving just elderly females Najin and Fatu living under 24-hour armed protection at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

As their death will signify the official extinction of the northern white subspecies, the race has been on to pioneer advanced reproductive techniques as a last-ditch attempt at sustaining their kind.

Rhino Age Location Notes
Najin 31 years Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya Mother of Fatu
Fatu 20 years Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya Daughter of Najin

Najin and Fatu themselves cannot carry a pregnancy due to a range of health issues. But through developing procedures to extract their eggs, fertilize them with preserved northern white semen, and implant the embryos into southern white surrogate mothers, experts hope the resulting offspring can preserve crucial northern genes.

Pioneering IVF Procedure with Southern Surrogate

This week, scientists have finally achieved a key milestone in this quest after numerous prior attempts. A southern white rhino at San Diego Zoo has become pregnant via embryo transfer with a northern white embryo, the first such pregnancy ever achieved.

Conservationists have celebrated the confirmed pregnancy while noting it remains early days. Nonetheless, the success so far bolsters hopes that even with only two animals left, assisted reproductive techniques can bring northern whites back from the brink.

Step by Step Process

The intricate procedure has involved close collaboration between Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Avantea labs in Italy, Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, and San Diego Zoo Global.

The key steps have included:

  1. Collecting eggs from Najin and Fatu via careful rectal extraction procedures at Ol Pejeta. This has occurred under general anesthesia around once every 1-2 months.

  2. Transporting the eggs in special incubation units to Avantea labs in Italy.

  3. Fertilizing the eggs using frozen semen from deceased northern white males like Suni and Sudan held at Dvůr Králové Zoo.

  4. Allowing the fertilized embryos to develop to the blastocyst stage in incubators.

  5. Implanting the embryos into pre-screened southern white rhino surrogates at San Diego Zoo.

Celebrating a Hard-Won Success

This week’s pregnancy confirmation spotlights the rewards now being reaped after over a decade spent refining these pioneering techniques.

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance CEO Paul Baribault has hailed the “historic IVF breakthrough” while noting they are still some way from their ultimate goal of restoring northern white populations.

Nonetheless, he says the pregnancy clearly demonstrates “that incredible things can happen when dedicated people come together.”

Ol Pejeta CEO Richard Vinge has meanwhile thanked global partners for helping push reproductive science “to the limits”, giving the northern white “a fighting chance of survival.”

What Comes Next for the Pregnant Rhino and Wider Program?

Conservationists have emphasized the long road still ahead despite this week’s big news. They plan to closely monitor the surrogate rhino during the 16-18 month gestation period before any northern white calf would be born.

Ensuring the pregnancy continues smoothly poses the next big hurdle, given this is the first such IVF rhino birth ever attempted. But scientists have outlined a clear set of next steps if all goes successfully.

Delivering and Raising the Calf

Firstly, Ol Pejeta staff will be fully prepared to offer any support needed during the southern white surrogate’s delivery when the day finally arrives. Depending on how labor progresses, this could involve providing medical assistance along with the team at San Diego Zoo.

Once born, the calf will likely remain with its birthing mother initially before transfer to Ol Pejeta after 6-12 months. Here it would join Najin and Fatu in a specially protected 700 acre haven for what all hope will become the seed of a revived northern white community.

Ramping Up the Wider Program

In tandem, conservation partners will continue striving to streamline and improve every part of the complex IVF process. This includes regular egg extractions from Najin and Fatu, achieving higher embryo viability rates in the lab, and successfully implanting the blastocysts into more surrogate rhinos.

They thus aim to steadily increase the number of resulting pregnancies until they can establish a properly breeding northern white herd. Such a milestone would finally signal the resurrection of these giants who numbered over 2000 in the 1960s across central Africa before poaching devastated populations.

Ultimately, Ol Pejeta envisions one day returning stabilized northern white numbers back to protected parks in their native home range. Congo’s Garamba National Park represents an especially symbolic location as the last wild northern male, Sudan, was rescued from there in 2009.

Wider Response Hails “Massive Breakthrough”

Global authorities like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have praised the confirmed pregnancy as “profound news” in the fight against biodiversity loss.

WWF scientists highlight how many species now rely solely on human intervention against extinction after populations crash in the wild. They believe assisted breeding techniques pioneered in northern white efforts could ultimately serve as an “insurance policy” for other high-risk wildlife.

Beyond conservation circles, leading media outlets have also covered the “massive scientific breakthrough” as an inspirational development. The two remaining northern females have become quasi-celebrities in recent years with millions tracking their plight.

Many now daring to believe that Najin and Fatu may yet avoid becoming the last of their kind thanks to IVF. The unprecedented pregnancy offers new found reasons for hope that humanity can right previous wrongs that eliminated northern whites everywhere outside Kenya.

Conclusion: Cautious Optimism for the Future

In summary, this week’s confirmed IVF pregnancy marks a long-awaited milestone in the marathon bid to restore northern white rhinos. It offers tangible hope that the two remaining elderly females may still contribute genetically despite their inability to naturally carry calves.

Conservationists emphasize no one is celebrating prematurely given the risks still ahead on such untrodden territory. But after countless prior attempts, the breakthrough breeds renewed confidence that with enough resources and determination, humans can prevent wiping out these icons forever.

The next year and a half will prove crucial as all eyes closely monitor the pregnant southern white surrogate. If she successfully delivers a healthy northern calf, it can then begin the monumental task of rebuilding its ancestral homeland herds under Ol Pejeta’s protection.

So while caution remains advisable, this week’s news certainly provides ample cause for optimism. The northern white’s future looks markedly brighter thanks to painstaking IVF efforts that may yet snatch resurrection from extinction’s jaws.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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