The fate of the nearly extinct northern white rhino has gone from dire to hopeful after an international consortium of scientists and conservationists finally achieved a milestone in assisted reproduction that may be a pivotal turning point in the fate of this rhino species. Using eggs collected from the two remaining females and frozen sperm from deceased males, they have successfully created two northern white rhino first-ever in-vitro embryos.
On August 22, the team of experts collected eggs from Najin and Fatu, the two females White Rhinos living at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. After incubation, seven of the eggs matured and were fertilized with sperm from males Suni and Saut. Fatu’s eggs were injected with Suni’s sperm while Najin’s eggs were injected with Saut’s sperm using a procedure called ICSI (Intra Cytoplasm Sperm Injection).
Saut’s semen was of really poor quality and had to be boosted with additional samples to find viable sperms for ICSI. After ten days of incubation, two of Fatu’s eggs developed into viable embryos that were cryopreserved for future transfer while Najin’s eggs did not make it to a viable embryo despite the fact that one egg initiated segmentation. These embryos are now stored in liquid nitrogen to be transferred into a surrogate mother in the near future.
“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 behavior still needs to radically change if the lessons of the northern white rhinos are to be learned,” said Richard Vigne, Managing Director of Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Well-established and inspiring partnerships have been highlighted as contributors to the success of this BioRescue project. The entire process has been part of the “rescue” research project whose goal is to significantly advance assisted reproduction techniques (ART) and stem cell-associated techniques (SCAT) complemented with a comprehensive ethical assessment for the benefit of the northern white rhinoceros.
“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 the 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 Hon. Najib Balala, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife.