The Last Two Northern White Rhinos Are Both Females, But Fertilization Breakthrough Could Save the Species

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The last two Northern White Rhinos are female, but a breakthrough in fertilization may be able to save the species.

There are just two northern white rhinos remaining in the world, hence their continued existence is in jeopardy. But now there’s hope for their species thanks to a ground-breaking in vitro fertilization experiment.

The only two known members of their subspecies are two elderly female northern white rhinos named Najin and Fatu who reside in Kenya. Their species was on the verge of extinction due to their advanced age and incapacity to procreate naturally. Previously widespread throughout central Africa, unlawful poaching has almost completely wiped them off.

With only two of its kind left, the northern white rhino is simply graceful and awe-inspiring. Photo: Karimi Ngore

The news of the world’s first successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) pregnancy in a rhino, however, has given rise to a glimmer of optimism. This historic accomplishment could lead to the resuscitation of one of the world’s most critically endangered species.

As a member of the multinational Biorescue project, which aims to save the northern white rhino, Susanne Holtz of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany remarked, “To achieve the first successful embryo transfer in a rhino is a huge step.”

“But now that we’ve achieved this, I believe we can save the species and will be very confident in our ability to create northern white rhinos in the same way.”

An extensive global partnership involving scientists, conservationists, and zoos is called BioRescue. The project’s objective is to develop viable embryos from the residual genetic material of deceased northern white rhinos by using cutting edge reproductive technologies including IVF and stem cell methods. In order to give the Northern white rhino a second chance at survival, these embryos would then be placed into surrogate mothers of the closely related Southern white rhino subspecies.

The announcement that was made recently was a big turning point for BioRescue. A lab-created embryo generated from Fatu’s genetic material was successfully injected into a Southern White Rhino surrogate in Kenya by scientists. Even though the pregnancy is still in its early stages, the project is getting closer to its end aim with each week that goes by: the birth of a healthy calf of northern white rhinos.

This accomplishment is noteworthy for various reasons. First of all, it shows that IVF procedures may be successfully used for rhino reproduction, opening the door for future uses in other endangered species dealing with comparable difficulties. Second, by providing a viable remedy for what appeared to be an imminent extinction, it restores hope for the survival of the northern white rhino.

Southern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. Photo: Ray in Manila

The path to total achievement is still difficult and drawn out, though. Even in cases where a healthy calf is born, additional breeding efforts will be necessary to produce a sustainable population, therefore the pregnancy needs to be continuously observed and cared for. Furthermore, it is imperative that the ethical implications of these interventions within species be thoroughly examined and deliberated.

The entire globe is eagerly observing BioRescue despite the obstacles. If this study is successful, it may change the story of many endangered animals that are fighting to survive in a changing environment. Even though Najin and Fatu were unable to directly impact the situation, their legacy might continue to be felt by future generations of northern white rhinos that are saved from extinction.

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