Kenya on Wednesday announced successful creation of two northern white rhino embryos through artificial reproduction as efforts to halt extinction of the iconic species gathers momentum.
Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife hailed the creation of the two embryos by a group of international scientists through fertilization of eggs collected from the only two remaining northern female white rhinos and sperms from two of their deceased male counterparts.
“It has been decades of race against time and we are excited at the progress in reversing the hitherto bleak outlook for the northern white rhino,” said Balala.
The first ever creation of northern white rhino embryos that was conducted at a laboratory in Italy, marked a milestone in efforts to stop looming extinction of the giant land mammals linked to poaching and climatic shocks.
An international group of scientists and conservationists had on August 22 collected eggs from the two northern female white rhinos called Fatu and Najin living at Ol Pejeta Conservancy located in northern Kenya.
The ten immature eggs called oocytes that were collected from Fatu and Najin were airlifted to an Italian Laboratory, and after incubation only seven matured to become suitable for fertilization.
Cesare Galli, director of Italy’s Avantea Lab said the seven mature eggs were injected with sperms and only two developed into viable embryos after ten days of incubation.
He said the two embryos that are currently preserved in liquid nitrogen will later be transferred to a surrogate southern white rhino mother to pave way for birth of the next generation of the endangered mammal.
John Waweru, director general of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) lauded collaborative efforts by local and foreign scientists that led to creation of northern white rhino embryos.
“The pioneering in vitro embryos of the northern white rhino is a strong testament to what committed partnerships can achieve in pushing the frontiers of science to save a creature from extinction,” said Waweru.
Kenya wildlife agency had earlier partnered with Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Dru Kralove Zoo from the Czech Republic and Ol Pejeta Conservancy to harvest eggs from the two female northern white rhinos