For the first time in history, scientists managed to fertilize a female rhino through IVF: this may save the threatened species
For the first time in history, scientists have successfully impregnated a female rhino using in vitro fertilization (IVF). This could be the first step towards saving the rhino species, which is on the verge of extinction.
The BioRescue project team announced the successful trial in a statement. The entire fertilization procedure was made possible by international efforts to save the species.
The northern white rhino species currently has only two infertile females, Najin and Fatu, who live under constant supervision in Kenya. At the same time, in Italy and Germany, live cells of 12 different northern white rhinos are stored in liquid nitrogen.
In the study, the sperm donor was a southern white rhino named Athos, who lives in the Salzburg Zoo in Austria, and the egg was obtained from Elenore, a southern white rhinoceros living in the Pairi Daiza Zoo in Belgium.
Subsequently, the samples were delivered by scientists to Italy, where in vitro fertilization took place. In September 2023, the embryos obtained as a result of fertilization were brought to Kenya and implanted into a surrogate mother named Curra, who lives in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The embryo implantation process included the use of a male named Ouwan to stimulate typical mating behavior.
BioRescue project leader Thomas Hildebrandt called the experiment "uncharted territory" because the procedures, protocols, methods, and equipment were developed by the researchers from scratch.
Despite the successful fertilization and development of the embryo, the project ended in a tragedy for the scientists, which, however, had nothing to do with pregnancy. According to the scientists, in November 2023, Curra and Ouwan were found dead. Scientists believe that both rhinos contracted a severe bacterial infection after extremely heavy rains caused by climate change flooded the surrogate enclosure.
At the time of her death, Curra was pregnant with a 70-day-old male fetus that had reached 6.4 cm in size. Studies conducted by scientists confirmed that the pregnancy was the result of embryo transfer.
In the future, the scientists plan to continue their research. They intend to choose a new surrogate mother and a rhinoceros "fertilizer", and also plan to develop an embryo of the northern white rhinoceros for implantation.
If the new experiment succeeds, the offspring will live with Najin and Fatu so that the behavior of the northern white rhino can be studied.