With only two living females, the Northern white rhino is functionally extinct. Now, scientists are attempting to use assisted reproductive technology to save itby Philip Ball / July 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
The Northern white rhinoceros of the grasslands and savannah of southern Africa has been hunted to extinction. But modern assisted reproduction technology might yet rescue it.
That’s according to a new study which demonstrates a dramatic possibility for developments in embryology to transform nature conservation.
The population of Northern white rhinos has been tiny since the 1980s, rarely exceeding 30 or so.
Currently, there are just two alive. Both were born in captivity and belong to the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic but are kept under armed guard in the Ol Pejata Conservancy of Kenya.
Both, however, are females—a mother and daughter The last surviving male died of natural causes in March. So there is no way, now, for the species to persist by natural means; it is “functionally” extinct.
The reason for that is poaching. Rhino horn fetches huge prices on the black market, and conservators have been taking to sawing off the horns of rhinos under sedation to eliminate poachers’ key motivation.
To Jan Stejskal of the Dvůr Králové Zoo, the plight of the Northern white rhino is “a symbol of the human disregard for nature.”
To make matters worse, it’s rare for the rhinos to reproduce in captivity—which is why the Czech animals were originally returned to the wild.
Faced with this dire situation, in 2015 scientists at Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, in collaboration with others, hatched a plan to maintain the endangered rhinos using reproductive technology.
The rhinos’ DNA was sampled and stored in gene banks, and the researchers decided…