World, Africa

Egg harvesting halted from 1 of 2 nearly extinct female northern white rhinos in Kenya

Scientists say they agreed to stop after ethical risk assessment

Andrew Wasike   | 21.10.2021
Egg harvesting halted from 1 of 2 nearly extinct female northern white rhinos in Kenya FILE PHOTO

NAIROBI, Kenya

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya said Thursday that scientists working to save the endangered northern white rhino have retired the older of the two remaining females – Najin, at age 32.

The Conservancy, spread over 360 square kilometers (223 square miles), is home to the last two northern white rhinos in the world.

The BioRescue consortium team of scientists said it places the highest value on respecting the life and welfare of the animals and agreed to stop after making an ethical risk assessment.

“This leaves the ambitious programme with just one female that can provide oocytes (eggs cells), Najin’s daughter Fatu,” Ol Pejeta said in a statement.

Minister of Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala said, “Najin has not produced any viable ovum compounded by its advanced age. We have no choice but to accept the fate of having to retire her from the program. We are however encouraged that she will be around long enough to have a positive impact on the next Northern White Rhino generations through offspring from her daughter Fatu.”

Jan Stejskal. one of the chief scientists in the projects, said the procedure of harvesting donor eggs from the rhinos is new and although it is performed by world-leading scientists and veterinarians from the BioRescue team in the most professional and reassuring manner, there are risks involved to the animals.

“Oocyte collections in Najin have yielded only a few eggs and none of them could be fertilized successfully to become an embryo. Weighing this outcome with potential risks, it is the most responsible decision to cease any further intervention on Najin and to stop using her as a donor of oocytes. She will remain a part of the programme, for example by providing tissue samples for stem cell approaches, which can be performed with minimal invasion,” said Stejskal.

Scientists plan to use embryos multiple times to create a herd of northern white rhinos, which will be reintegrated into the wild.

About 500 northern white rhinos were roaming in several countries in East and Central Africa, south of the Sahara Desert until 1970.

Poaching reduced their population to 15 by 1980 and then 32 in 2003. The two remaining females were born in captivity.

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