Tag Archives: rhino breeding programs

7 Frozen Embryos and the Resuscitation of Rhinos

SUDAN, the last male northern white rhinoceros on Earth, died in March 2018. He is survived by two females, Najin and her daughter Fatu, who live in a conservancy in Kenya. This pair are thus the only remaining members of the world’s most endangered subspecies of mammal. But all might not yet be lost. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, in Berlin, in collaboration with Avantea, a biotechnology company in Cremona, Italy, is proposing heroic measures to keep the subspecies alive. In a paper published in Nature, he and his colleagues say that they have created, by in vitro fertilisation (IVF), apparently viable hybrid embryos of northern white rhinos and their cousins from the south. This, they hope, will pave the way for the creation of pure northern-white embryos.

Though stored sperm from Sudan and several other males are available, both Najin and Fatu now seem unable to conceive. This means, if the subspecies is to be preserved, that one or both of them will have to have some eggs removed from their ovaries and combined with stored sperm in a Petri dish;… and subsenquently implanted in the uterus of a southern white, who would act as a surrogate mother, with a reasonable hope of success.  That has not yet happened. The seven embryos are now in a freezer awaiting the results of research on how best to transfer them to surrogates. In the meantime, having proved their technique with these hybrids, Dr Hildebrandt and his colleagues now hope to create more embryos, this time using eggs from the two remaining female northern whites.

Even if they succeed, though, it will be a long haul back for the northern white rhino. Members of any new generation resulting from IVF will have then to be bred with each other to create subsequent generations—with all the risks of reduced biological fitness which such incest entails. It is not so much a gene pool that Dr Hildebrandt is working with as a gene puddle.

Then there is the question of what to do with the resulting animals. Analysis of other rhinoceros species, both in Africa and Asia, points to a viable population in the wild needing to be at least 500 strong. Even if such a group could be created, and not collapse from lack of genetic diversity, releasing it into the tender mercies of what remains of Kenya’s savannah would be risky.

Excerpts from Animal Conservation: Drinking in the last-chance saloon, Economist, July 7, 2018, at 66.

Re-Creating the Rhinos, one at a time

rhino born May 12, 2016. image from http://phys.org/news/2016-05-birth-rare-sumatran-rhino-hailed.html

A Sumatran rhinoceros born in Indonesia has given renewed hope to environmentalists looking to save the critically endangered species.  A rhino named Ratu gave birth to the female calf on May 12, 2015, at a rhino sanctuary in the Way Kambas National Park on the island of Sumatra.

The new arrival for 15-year-old Ratu, and her mate Andalas*, follows the couple’s first baby Andatu, who made history in 2012 as the first rhino born in captivity in Indonesia in more than a century.

* Andalas, was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001…. In 2001 he was the first captive Sumatran rhino born in 112 years  He moved to the sanctuary in Indonesia in 2007.

Excerpts from Rare Sumatran rhino born in Indonesia, Reuters,  May 13, 2016

And Then There Were None: Sumatran Rhinos

Sumatran rhinoceroses Emi and Harapan in the Cincinnati Zoo, Ohio, United States. Image from wikipeidia

The last Sumatran rhino in the Western Hemisphere began a journey on October 30, 2015 from Ohio, United States to its ancestral southeast Asian homeland on a mission to help preserve the critically endangered species. …Conservationists hope Harapan can mate with one or more of the three females in the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park….Numbers of the two-horned “hairy rhinos,” descendants of Ice Age wooly rhinos, have fallen by some 90 percent since the mid-1980s as development of their forest habitat and poachers seeking their horns took their toll. Including three Sumatran rhinos in a sanctuary in Malaysia, only nine are in captivity globally.  Harapan’s departure ends the Cincinnati Zoo’s captive breeding program for the species that produced three rhinos….Indonesian officials are anxious to get Harapan to their sanctuary. They have said they don’t want to be dependent on other countries in conservation efforts by sending rhinos to be bred abroad, but welcome technological or scientific assistance for their breeding program.Conservationists and government officials met in Singapore in 2013 for a Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit to discuss ways to save the species.
Excerpts from DAN SEWELL, Sumatran Rhino Begins US-Asia Trip to Ancestral Home, Associated Press, Oct. 30, 2015