An Italian company hopes to save the northern white rhino through IVF

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An Italian company hopes to save the northern white rhino through IVF
Najin (R) and Fatu, the only two remaining female northern white rhino, in their paddock. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP

An Italian company will help try to save the northern white rhino after the last surviving male of the species died, according to reports on Tuesday.


The male rhino, Sudan, was euthanized on Monday following complications linked to old age (he was 45), leaving two females the only two surviving northern white rhinos. 

"With options running out, scientists are attempting to develop “artificial reproductive techniques” including IVF to rescue this subspecies," the Ol Pejeta Conservancy said in a statement announcing Sudan's death.

The conservancy said it was partnering with Avantea, a biotechnology research centre in Cremona, northern Italy, as well as IZW Berlin and the Kenya Wildlife Service to try to rescue the rhino.

Cremona-based Avantea was founded by vet and biotechnology expert Cesare Galli, who was responsible for the world's first cloned bull and cloned horse. The horse, named Prometa, went on to give birth to a foal.

"We have been working for years on northern white rhinos," Galli told Il Sole 24 Ore. "IVF techniques have never been used on that species, but we are carrying out experients on a similar species, the southern white rhino, in European zoos."

He said that though scientists have the frozen semen of three dead male northern white rhinos, the samples are of "poor quality", while the two living females were both infertile.

"We're working with what little is left," said the biologist.

The process has never been carried out before and the Kenyan conservancy said it could be risky.

Scientists would remove egg cells from the two surviving females, fertilizing them with semen previously collected from Sudan and possibly other males, and inserting the embryos into female southern white rhinos.

In total, the cost of the entire IVF process including trials and the actual implantation, is estimated at up to $9 million (approximately €7,326,000). 



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