Kenya SCIENCE

Scientists Fertilize the Eggs of the Last Northern White Rhinos in the World

Najin and Fatu are the only female Northern White rhinos that exist in the world. The rhinos are found in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki, Kenya. There are no males in existence. The last male Northern White rhino, called Sudan, died on March 2018 due to age-related complications. 45-year-old Sudan gained popularity in 2017 following his listing as ‘the most eligible bachelor in the world’ on the Tinder dating app. This was an effort to raise funds. The Northern White rhinos are at the verge of extinction due to poaching activities targeting their horns.

Vets successfully harvested eggs from the remaining female rhinos at Ol Pejeta on Thursday the 22nd of August, 2019. The international teamwork on the project had the task of fertilizing the eggs. They say the process ended successfully. They fertilized the eggs with frozen semen which they extracted from Sudan before he died. Dr. Frank Goeritz, the Head Veterinarian at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research spoke about the procedure.

“The procedure we did is the only hope to rescue the northern white rhino because all other procedures we developed before like artificial insemination doesn’t work in this species. So the only chance is harvest eggs, fertilize them in vitro, produce and embryo, and bring it back into the female.”

The scientists will implant the fertilized eggs into a surrogate female White Rhino. Najin and Fatu cannot carry any pregnancy. One of them has lesions in her uterus while the other has weak legs which can endanger the pregnancy.

It takes around 9 days to know whether the fertilized eggs have become embryos. Dr. Goeritz explained about the embryo transfer.

“When we get 2 embryos out of these 10 eggs, it would be a big breakthrough. And then we have to transfer the embryo, which will be preserved in liquid nitrogen, for later embryo transfer.”

“When we have shown in the Southern White rhino that the embryo transfer is working well, then we will use these embryos and come back here to Kenya and we find surrogate mothers in the southern white rhinos here to do an embryo transfer and hopefully 16 months later a live calf will be born here on the ground.”

Dr. Goeritz says they are working to ensure that other endangered species will be safer in the future.  

“It is very obvious that the concept of evolution did not fail on this species. It’s human beings impact which brought this species to extinction, and therefore it is our responsibility as human beings to counteract this. And third I think as scientists we are generating so many information, so many knowledge which will help in the future other species which are endangered right now.”

James Mwenda, a rhino keeper at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, spoke about the importance of protecting the animals so they do not become extinct.

“I will just want to call upon us to realize why it is important to protect these animals before we come to as close as we are to the near extinction of these two rhinos, and I hope we can see it before it comes to such a close because these are just the red light warnings of what is happening to many more species some which we can’t see. These are just big animals that we can’t avoid to see, but extinction happens to so many other species that suffer without our notice, so it’s a call to action for us to continue protecting the animals that we have before it’s too late.”

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