Rhinos are among the many wild species that are currently facing extinction due to poaching and habitat loss. In recent years, these animals have all but disappeared from areas where their species once thrived. In some areas of the world, certain rhino species have been entirely wiped out. As Truth Theory reported earlier this year, the final male sumatran rhino in Malaysia, named Tam, tragically passed away.
The northern white rhino is one of the most critically endangered species of rhino in the world. There are only two surviving members of this species, and they are both females. However, an international team of scientists has an ambitious plan to fertilize the eggs of these last remaining rhinos, with sperm from the now-dead, last-surviving males of the species.
Last week, scientists working in Italy announced that they were successful in fertilizing 7 out of 10 seven of the 10 rhino eggs, according to the New York Times.
Jan Stejskal, the director of international projects at the Dvur Kralove Zoo, who participated in the effort, said that this is the last chance for this species.
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“We were really able to do something no one before has been able to do. We still don’t know whether we’ll have embryos, but it was successful anyway. We proved that there is a real chance for them to have offspring,” Stejskal said.
The procedure was somewhat risky, so researchers put the rhinos under general anesthesia and used an ultrasound-guided problem to extract their eggs. Once extracted, the eggs were then sent to Italy where they will be fertilized by sperm that was collected a few years ago, from two male rhinos who are now deceased.
Dr. Frank Göritz, of the Leibniz Institute in Germany, who took part in the project, said that it could be possible to see a northern white rhino born in the next few years. The researchers hope that the mothers are still alive when the young rhino is born, that way it can learn the behavior that the species has passed down through the generations.
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Dr. Göritz pointed out that while saving the white rhino is important, the things learned during these studies could give scientists tools to save many other species in the future.
“It’s not only about saving the northern white rhino. We gained so much knowledge, and we used technology that we can now apply way earlier for other endangered species before they reach this situation,” he said.
If this strategy works, researchers hope to use southern white rhinos as surrogates to widen the breeding pool.
IMAGE CREDIT: Johan Swanepoel