Kenya reports progress in saving the northern white rhino with four new embryos produced

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Kenya announced Thursday that four new northern white rhino embryos had been produced as efforts to rescue the iconic giant land mammal from extinction gathered momentum.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and a consortium of international scientists said the embryos were produced in March from 19 immature eggs (oocytes) that were harvested from one of the only two surviving female northern white rhino called Fatu.

“We are excited with the laboratory outcome of the last ovum pick-up in March,” said Najib Balala, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, in a joint statement issued in Nairobi. “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.”

Kenya has partnered with an international consortium of scientists, conservationists to help produce the next generation of northern white rhino through assisted reproduction technologies.

The harvesting of immature eggs from the two surviving female northern white rhinos and artificially inseminating them using sperm frozen from deceased male counterparts has been ongoing since 2019 at Ol Pejeta Conservancy based in northwestern Kenyan county of Laikipia.

KWS said that 14 out of the 19 immature eggs that were harvested from Fatu on March 28 produced four viable embryos after they were fertilized with thawed sperm from a deceased northern white rhino bull called Suni.

The four embryos are now stored in liquid nitrogen alongside the five ones that were created during earlier procedures as they await transfer to surrogate mothers to help produce new northern white rhino offspring.

Another milestone achieved in the rescue of northern white rhino was sterilization of a southern white rhino bull called Owuan in December 2020 to pave way for its role in helping determine the reproductive cycle of potential surrogate mothers without impregnating them.

KWS said that Owuan will be introduced to the southern white rhino females in the coming weeks to facilitate seamless transfer of embryos and produce new northern white rhino offspring.

“We are eager to get the progeny from the project that will guarantee survival of the species,” said Balala.