Saving rhinos with IVF

By Lengai101 - Own work, CC BY 3.0,
By Lengai101 – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

The northern white rhino is one of the most critically endangered species in the world, with only three surviving individuals. These three, one male and two females, are protected by armed guards at all times at their home in Kenya. They have been kept safe successfully, but have failed to breed and are now too old to do so.

Now zoologists have collected nine eggs from the females and sent them to Italy in the hopes that stem cell technology can be utilised to create an embryo which will be carried by a surrogate of another rhino species. If successful, the rhino IVF babies will be a world first.

However the procedure has met with some controversy, with many saying that the money might be better spent protecting other existing rhino species. Critics also worry that success in this endeavour might cause a reduction in conservation efforts, due to the knowledge that one can always fall back on science to revive a lost species.

But success with rebuilding the related southern white rhino populations over the past 100 years, from a population of 100 to over 20,000 thriving today, gives hope that the northern rhino can be similarly managed, once we establish some breeding pairs to kick-start the old-fashioned process.




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