Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Northern White Rhino IVF Project by BioRescue

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Northern White Rhino

Mains level : Not Much

Northern White Rhino

Introduction

  • 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

Details
Scientific Name Ceratotherium simum cottoni
Geographic Range Eastern and Central Africa
Population Status Critically Endangered (Only 2 individuals alive) in 2024
Physical Characteristics Grayish-white color, two horns, hump on the neck
Social Behavior Solitary, occasionally seen in small groups
Diet Herbivorous, primarily grazers
Conservation Efforts Extensive efforts to save from extinction
IUCN Red List Status Critically Endangered

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.

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