Race to save northern white rhino gains pace as embryos created

Friday February 18 2022
White rhinoceros

The world's last female pair of northern white rhinoceros, Najin (L) with her daughter Fatu in their enclosure at Ol-Pejeta conservancy at Laikipia's county headquarters, Nanyuki on May 28, 2019. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP


Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said Thursday that two new northern white rhinoceros embryos had been created through a partnership with international researchers to help save the iconic herbivore.

The KWS said in a statement that the embryos were created following two procedures in October last year and February, and they will be transferred to a surrogate southern female rhinoceros in the near future.

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So far, 14 embryos have been successfully produced, after oocytes or egg cells were harvested from one of the two remaining northern female white rhinoceros sheltering at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in northern Kenya. According to the KWS, the procedures at Ol Pejeta conservancy in October 2021 and February marked the seventh and eighth successful egg cell collection by a consortium of local and international scientists as well as conservationists.

It said the two new embryos were matured and inseminated at a laboratory in Italy, cryopreserved in November 2021 and February as they await transfer to a southern white rhinoceros female surrogate.

Creation of the two embryos was conducted using semen from a northern white rhinoceros bull called Angalifu and they are currently preserved in liquid nitrogen awaiting transfer to the surrogate mother.


"A greater number of embryos increase the chances of having a northern white rhino calf on the ground," said the KWS, adding that the consortium of scientists intends to collect egg cells from the female northern white rhinoceros called Fatu on a regular basis.

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The future collection of egg cells from the female northern white rhinoceros will also be guided by regular risk assessment, the KWS said. The race to halt extinction of the northern white rhinoceros commenced in 2019 amid signs of a possible breakthrough as scientists leverage assisted fertilization to produce healthy calves.