Kenya on Thursday announced the successful creation of two new embryos of the northern white rhino as efforts to halt the extinction of the iconic land mammal gathered steam.
An international consortium of scientists and conservationists involved in restoring the population of northern white rhinos through assisted reproduction said the creation of the two embryos was accomplished in late December.
“On behalf of the people and the government of Kenya, I take this opportunity to acknowledge progress achieved so far by a joint team of Kenyan and international scientists working to save the endangered northern white rhino from extinction,” Najib Balala, cabinet secretary for wildlife and tourism said in a joint statement issued in Nairobi.
Balala said that Kenya has created an enabling environment for local and international scientists to harness cutting-edge assisted reproduction technologies and increase the population of northern white rhinos.
“We must do everything possible to save this species from extinction,” said Balala.
“I am delighted that the world has a chance through the use of cutting-edge and innovative technologies to save this threatened wildlife species for posterity and that Kenya is playing its part in this critical conservation effort,” he added.
Scientists in December 2020 retrieved 14 egg cells (oocytes) from the ovaries of one of the two remaining northern female white rhinos called Fatu sheltered at the OlPejeta Conservancy located in northern Kenya.
The egg cells were incubated at a laboratory in Europe and eight of them were fertilized with thawed sperm from a deceased northern male white rhino called Suni.
Two oocytes developed into full embryos and are currently stored in liquid nitrogen alongside the three that were produced in earlier procedures as they await transfer into the wombs of surrogate southern white rhino mothers.
A statement from the consortium of scientists and conservationists said no embryo has been produced from oocytes of the other female northern white rhino called Najin (Fatu’s mother) due to her advanced age.
“In addition, the 31-year-old rhino (Najin) has a large tumor in her abdomen, which at this point does not cause acute health problems but may hamper the functionality of reproductive organs,” said the scientists.
They said that retrieving egg cells from the female northern white rhino suffered setbacks in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic but is expected to continue uninterrupted later in the year.
According to scientists, the next phase of the northern white rhino rescue program will involve monitoring the reproductive cycle of surrogate mothers to ensure the process is seamless. Enditem