Bringing back the northern white rhino

Northern white rhino Fatu, left, and southern white rhino Tauwo, after oocyte collection. Credit: Jan Swilling

Scientists have made a step toward bringing the northern white rhino back from near extinction in the wild by producing new embryos in a lab. Since 2019, the BioRescue consortium, a group dedicated to developing advanced methods of assisted reproduction to save the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) from extinction, has been collecting oocytes from the two remaining female rhinos—named Fatu and Nájin—and developing them with sperm from deceased bulls. With help from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Kenya Wildlife Service & Wildlife Research and Training Institute, the consortium recently completed the 10th egg harvesting, resulting in five additional frozen embryos. That brings the total number of developed embryos to 22. “Our next aim is to successfully produce viable offspring by inventing and using new scientific embryo transfer methods and techniques,” said Thomas Hildebrandt, BioRescue project leader and head of the Department of Reproduction Management at the Leibniz-Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. “The ground-breaking scientific work we are establishing here will lay the groundwork for future conservation rescue initiatives.” The team plans to transfer the embryos to a southern white rhino surrogate (Ceratotherium simum simum). “We are delighted with the milestones of the project to date,” said Patrick Omondi, director and CEO of the Wildlife Research & Training Institute. “The project demonstrates the success of multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary partnerships and collaborations in saving this iconic species from extinction.”

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