Wildlife & Biodiversity

Scientists at Oxford tries IVF to save the near-extinct Northern White Rhino

This paves the way for transferring the embryos into a surrogate, most possibly a Southern White Rhino to revive the animal population

Published: Friday 13 September 2019

Scientists at Oxford tried in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to save the near-extinct Northern White Rhino. They have successfully created two embryos to revive the species from a point of no-return.

The development was announced in a press conference in Italy on September 11, 2019. This paves the way for transferring the embryos into a surrogate, most possibly a Southern White Rhino to revive the animal population.

A sub-species of White Rhinos found in Africa, the Northern White Rhinos were native to the north of Africa. Countries like Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic had a population of Northern White Rhinos.

The southern white rhinos, found in southern Africa, had also faced the threat of extinction as their number dropped to only a few hundred animals around a century ago, but conservation efforts led to a recovery. Now, about 20,000 exist in protected areas.

In the 1970s, widespread poaching of the Northern White Rhinos reduced the number of the animals from 500 to 15. The numbers doubled in the 1990s but 2000s onwards illegal poaching again led it to near-extinction.

Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, died last year at the age of 45, equivalent of 90 in human years. Sudan's daughter and granddaughter Nagin and Fatu are the only two females left in the remaining Northern White Rhino population.  But due to health reasons both of them are unable to breed naturally. 

Though it's great news for the conservation of Northern White Rhinos but the challenge would remain in terms of lack of genetic diversity in the population. One possible way to expand the animal's gene pool is to create eggs from rhino skin cells but the technology for the same may not be available for another decade. 

Before this, scientists have successfully tried this technique on mice for nearly two decades and this has also been tried on some species of dogs, horses, and cats. However, this is the very first attempt of the technique on rhinoceros. Therefore, the Oxford team need to perfect it by conducting a series of trials first. 


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