France Press Agency8/3/2021 10:43:17 AM IST
Scientists working to bring back the functionally extinct northern white rhinoceros announced that they have successfully created three more embryos of the subspecies, making a total of 12.
One of the two remaining living specimens in the world – female Fatu who lives with her mother Najin in the 90,000 hectare Ol Pejeta nature reserve in Kenya – supplied the eggs for the project, while the sperm used came from two different deceased men.
The scientific consortium Biorescue described in a press release late Thursday how the eggs were collected by Fatu in early July before being flown to a laboratory in Italy for fertilization, development and preservation.
Neither Fatu nor Najin are able to carry a calf to term, so surrogate mothers are selected for the embryos from a population of southern white rhinos.
Ol Pejeta director Richard Vigne told AFP on Friday he believed in the project’s chances of success, but emphasized the high stakes.
“Nobody is going to pretend it’s going to be easy,” he said.
“We’re doing things that are up to date from a scientific point of view, and we’re doing genetics, the last two northern white rhinos left on the planet,” Vigne said.
“There are many, many things that can go wrong,” he said. “I think everyone understands the challenges that remain.”
As of 2019, Biorescue has collected 80 eggs from Najin and Fatu, but the 12 viable embryos are all from the younger rhinoceros.
The project is a multinational initiative in which scientists from the German Leibniz Institute support the Kenya Wildlife Service and Ol Pejeta and the Italian Avantea laboratory supports fertilization.
Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala welcomed the news.
“It is very encouraging to see that the project has continued to make good progress in its ambitious efforts to save an iconic species from extinction,” he said in the press release.
Rhinos have very few natural enemies, but poaching has depleted their numbers since the 1970s.
Modern rhinos have roamed the planet for 26 million years, and it is estimated that more than a million were still living in the wild by the mid-19th century.