The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on Thursday announced that four new embryos of the nearly extinct northern white rhinos had been developed, promising the endangered animal a new lease on life.
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, died in 2018 in Kenya leaving behind only two infertile females.
Scientists, who had stored Sudan’s sperm, have been working hard to develop embryos which they plan to use on surrogate female southern white rhinos multiple times to create a herd of pure northern white rhinos which will be reintegrated into the wild.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy on Thursday said: “The international consortium of scientists and conservationists working towards preventing the extinction of the northern white rhino through advanced assisted reproduction technologies is pleased to announce that in March and April 2021, four additional northern white rhino embryos were produced.”
Next phase to save rhinos
Kenya’s Tourism and Wildlife Minister Najib Balala said in a statement that with nine embryos successfully developed, it was time that scientists moved on to the next phase to use surrogate rhinos to develop a herd of northern white rhinos.
“We are excited with the laboratory outcome of the last ovum pick-up in March. With nine pure northern white rhino embryos now developed, the partners in the project should embark on the next phase of the project – embryo transfer to the surrogate southern white females at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. We are eager to get the progeny from the project that will guarantee survival of the species.”
The conservancy said this is the most successful series of procedures – from oocyte collection in Kenya to in vitro fertilization and cryopreservation in Italy.
The team working to save the nearly extinct rhinos includes Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Kenya Wildlife Service, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Avantea.
There were hundreds of thousands of northern white rhinos roaming in East and Central Africa, but civil war and years of poaching brought its populations to near extinction.