A team of researchers is looking to perform the world’s first rhino pregnancy through in vitro fertilization as the lab-assisted procedure is an essential “proof of concept” that could save Africa’s critically endangered white rhino from extinction.
“If there is some hope of recovery within the northern white rhino gene pool—even though it’s a substantially smaller sample of what there was—we haven’t lost them,” says conservation ecologist David Balfour, who chairs the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s African rhino specialist group.
The international group of scientists BioRescue leads this research, whose project is to implant a northern white rhino embryo into a southern white rhino surrogate mother. One of the limited numbers of northern white embryos will be implanted in a southern white rhino surrogate mother within the next six months when the female is in estrus, meaning when she is ready to mate. Some 30 embryos have been created to reintroduce northern white rhinos into the wild within their range countries. Across Africa, there are only a total of 23,000 of five species of rhinoceros, of which almost 17,000 are southern whites. There are about 6,000 black rhinos whose three subspecies are critically endangered. In Asia, apart from the endangered Javan and Sumatran rhinos – each now number under 100 individuals – there is the greater one-horned rhino whose numbers are around 2,000.