From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Northern White Rhino
Mains level : Not Much
- The northern white rhino, once on the brink of extinction, saw its last male member pass away in 2018, leaving the subspecies on the verge of being lost forever.
- However, a pioneering initiative was launched in 2015 by a group of international scientists known as BioRescue, to resurrect the northern white rhino through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
About Northern White Rhino
|Ceratotherium simum cottoni
|Eastern and Central Africa
|Critically Endangered (Only 2 individuals alive) in 2024
|Grayish-white color, two horns, hump on the neck
|Solitary, occasionally seen in small groups
|Herbivorous, primarily grazers
|Extensive efforts to save from extinction
|IUCN Red List Status
White Rhino Resurrection IVF Project
- Project: BioRescue, a team of scientists from around the world, embarked on a mission to revive the northern white rhino through IVF in 2015.
- Historic Breakthrough: In a remarkable achievement, scientists announced the first-ever rhino pregnancy via the transfer of a lab-made rhino embryo into a surrogate mother.
- Persistence and Dedication: The breakthrough with a southern white rhino, a close relative, followed 13 attempts, showcasing the dedication of the scientists.
Challenges on Road to Revival
- Unique Challenge: Northern white rhinos face an unusual predicament due to the infertility of the last two surviving females, Najin and Fatu.
- Surrogacy Complexity: Preparing a southern white female as a surrogate mother involves isolation, infection prevention protocols, and precise identification of the fertile window.
- Genetic Viability: Even with successful IVF and surrogacy, the limited gene pool from eggs and sperm of deceased zoo rhinos poses a challenge.
- Stem Cell Possibilities: Exploring stem cell techniques to broaden the gene pool shows promise but is experimental and challenging to implement in rhinos.
Lessons from Conservation
- Wild Resilience: Conservation efforts saved the southern white rhino from near-extinction, with their numbers rebounding from a mere 20 in the 19th century to over 17,000.
- Crossbreeding Dilemma: Crossbreeding northern and southern subspecies is not a viable solution due to the loss of unique attributes.
- Behavioral Legacy: Restoring a species requires more than genetic revival; it necessitates the transmission of behavioral traits learned from adults of the same species.
The Race against Time
- Critical Window: To preserve the northern white rhino’s unique behavioral traits, the first IVF calves must learn from the last two surviving females, Najin and Fatu.
- Looming Deadline: With Najin at 35 and Fatu at 24, the window for this crucial interaction is closing, as northern white rhinos rarely live beyond 40 in captivity.
- A Costly Endeavor: BioRescue, funded by the German government and donors, has invested millions in this project, raising questions about resource allocation and prioritization.
The Bigger Picture
- A Noble Cause: The effort to revive the northern white rhino stems from a sense of responsibility to counteract human-driven extinction.
- Conservation Imperative: While the project is ambitious, critics raise concerns about neglecting other endangered species and the need to protect natural habitats.
- Broader Crisis: Rhino populations across species face grave threats, including poaching, with one rhino poached every 16 hours in Africa.