Pregnant rhino in USA to play role in saving Africa’s northern white rhino

Pregnant rhino in USA to play role in saving Africa’s northern white rhino

A southern white rhino has become pregnant through artificial insemination at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park — giving hope for efforts to save a subspecies of one of the world’s most recognizable animals.

Scientists are watching to see if a rhino named Victoria can carry her calf to term over 16 to 18 months of gestation.

If she does, researchers hope someday she could serve as a surrogate mother and could give birth to the related northern white rhino, whose population is down to two females after decades of decimation by poachers. The mother and daughter northern white rhinos that live in a Kenya wildlife preserve are not capable of bearing calves.

The last northern white male rhino, named Sudan, was euthanized in March at the Kenya preserve because of ailing health related to his old age.

Victoria is the first of the six female southern white rhinos at San Diego Zoo to become pregnant. The Institute for Conservation Research is testing to determine if they are fit to be surrogate mothers. If they pass the testing, they could carry northern white rhino embryos sometime within the next decade as scientists work to re-create northern white rhino embryos.

There are no northern white rhino eggs so creating an embryo would require using genetic technology.

The San Diego Zoo has the cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos stored in freezing temperatures at its “Frozen Zoo.”

Scientists hope to use frozen skin cells from dead northern white rhinos to transform them into stem cells and eventually sperm and eggs. Then the scientists would use in vitro fertilization to create embryos that would be put in the six female rhinos.

The ultimate goal — which could take decades — is to create a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos that would be returned to their natural habitat in Africa.

Some groups have said in vitro fertilization is being developed too late to save the northern white rhino. They say efforts should focus on other critically endangered species with a better chance at survival.

The southern white rhino and another species, the black rhino, are under heavy pressure from poachers who kill them for their horns to supply illegal markets in parts of Asia.

There are about 20,000 southern white rhinos in Africa.

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