Share this story!
- Scientists have achieved the world's first IVF pregnancy in a rhinoceros, opening new possibilities for saving the northern white rhinoceros from extinction.
- By using a surrogate mother from a southern white rhinoceros, a laboratory-produced embryo has been successfully transferred, with plans to repeat the process for the northern white rhinoceros.
- The Biorescue project, which works to save the species, sees this as a major step forward and is hopeful of being able to recreate the northern white rhinoceros through similar methods.
A breakthrough in fertility science
Researchers have made progress in conserving the northern white rhinoceros, a species on the brink of extinction, with only two surviving individuals. Through the world's first successful IVF pregnancy in a rhinoceros, where a laboratory-produced embryo was transferred to a surrogate mother from a closely related subspecies, the southern white rhinoceros, a path has been paved for new methods to save the species.
The northern white rhinoceros, once roamed across central Africa, has been decimated due to illegal poaching, driven by the demand for rhinoceros horn. With the last two surviving females, Najin and her daughter Fatu, the species was considered technically extinct. However, the Biorescue project has used groundbreaking fertility science to try to save these animals.
Challenges and progress
Achieving the first successful embryo transfer in a rhinoceros was not without problems. The project required years of research and many attempts; it took 13 tries to achieve the first viable IVF pregnancy using southern white rhinoceroses. The surrogate mother died of an infection, but this confirmed that the technique works and that a viable pregnancy through IVF in rhinoceroses is possible.
Next steps: Saving the northern white rhinoceros
With only 30 preserved embryos of the northern white rhinoceros, stored in liquid nitrogen in Germany and Italy, researchers face the next challenge: to conduct a similar process to try to create viable northern white rhinoceros calves. These embryos were created using eggs from Fatu and sperm from two male northern white rhinoceroses collected before their death. Since the last two survivors cannot carry a pregnancy, the team plans to use a surrogate mother from the southern white rhinoceros.