An global team of scientists say they have achieved a breakthrough in the fight to prevent the extinction of the Northern White Rhino.
Thomas Hildebrandt, head of the Department of Reproduction Management at the Berlin-based Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), said that the progress could be a great chance that after embryos are inserted into the womb of the surrogate mother, this female will be pregnant.
This is the first-ever reported generation of a pre-implantation embryos of rhinos known as blastocysts in a test tube.
Earlier this year, the rather sad news was announced that the last male northern white rhino had died. Now, only two members of the species remain-a 28-year-old female named Najin and her 18-year-old daughter Fatu, both of whom are housed at a Kenyan animal conservancy under constant armed guard. An global team of researchers successfully managed to adapt reproduction techniques used in horses to the special circumstances of rhino species, opening up the potential to bring back NWR from the brink of extinction.
Now scientists face another challenge of getting female eggs from the last two females living in Kenya in order to create a clean embryo.
There are just two northern white rhinos left and the problem is, both of them are female - but now, scientists say a baby northern white rhino could be born within three years.
"Rhinos are very large (2,000 kg on average), so they have a reproductive tract that is very hard to access".
Decades of rampant poaching have left the northern white rhino on the brink of extinction - with rhino horn fetching up to £40,000 a kilo on the black market.
Several critics of the latest work told The Associated Press that it is too late for the northern white rhino, since their numbers have reached the point of no return.
While the scientists are confident about being able to harvest eggs from the two females, questions remain over the risk to the rare animals' health. These are mature sexual reproduction cells, like a sperm or egg, that join to create a zygote, or fertilized egg cell.
The amount of semen preserved from northern white rhinos in frozen stocks is from only three bulls, meaning there is not a lot of genetic diversity. The goal of simply preserving the subspecies' genes in a new hybrid rhino (in captivity), and whether it would be worth all the effort, is unclear. "Meanwhile, we don't have enough funding to conserve the other four rhino species, all of which are more threatened with extinction than the white rhino", said Bob Smith, Director of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, England. The procedure was performed on a femalesouthern white rhino but while under a general anesthetic because the procedure is very risky. They plan to use chemical and genetic techniques to transform these ordinary skin cells into more cells resembling embryonic stem cells. "I do think that if there's one thing we should learn from this, it's that we shouldn't allow species to get to such a critical state that these high-tech approaches are the only ways of saving its genes". They failed because rhino horns, gram for gram, are more valuable than gold - fetching high prices as status symbols or for their medicinal powders. We can not afford to adopt a cavalier attitude toward extinction, as though animals were something to bring back at our leisure, he said.
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