A rhinoceros, commonly abbreviated to rhino, is one of any five extant species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae, as well as any of the numerous extinct species therein. Two of the extant species are native to Africa and three to Southern Asia.
Rhinoceros are killed by some humans for their horns, which are bought and sold on the black market, and used by some cultures for ornaments or traditional medicine.
East Asia, specifically Vietnam, is the largest market for rhino horns. By weight, rhino horns cost as much as gold on the black market. People grind up the horns and consume them, believing the dust has therapeutic properties.
The western black rhino was declared extinct years ago as a result of poaching. All five remaining rhino species worldwide are considered threatened, according to the conservation group Save the Rhino.
With only two left worldwide, there’s a race against time to try to sustain the northern white rhino.
Four northern white rhinos (two males and two females) were acquired by The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in 2009, from a zoo in the Czech Republic. Both male northern white rhinos died, leaving the fate of the subspecies on the female rhinos.
One of the male rhinos died in 2014, Sudan, the last male died of natural causes in March last year. Sperm from both males was cryogenically frozen with the hope that technology would advance enough to use it in reproduction.
Years later, it happened. The harvested eggs were airlifted from Kenya to Italy, where scientists at the Avantea laboratory fertilized the eggs in vitro with the sperm from the deceased males.
CNN reported: “Scientists have successfully created two embryos from the northern white rhino — a crucial turning point in the race to save the majestic animal from extinction”.
Scientists announced Wednesday September 11, 2019, that they successfully fertilized in-vitro embryos collected from the two remaining female northern white rhinos.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy said in a statement said that, the embryos were created with eggs extracted from Fatu and Najin by international scientists last month and frozen sperm from dead males. Two embryos were viable, and are now stored in liquid nitrogen, waiting to be transferred into a surrogate mother in the near future.
Najin and Fatu are not able to carry a pregnancy themselves, so the embryos will likely be transferred to a female southern white rhino who would act as a surrogate.
“Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was (an) almost unachievable goal — and today we have them,” said Jan Stejskal of Dvůr Králové Zoo, where Najin and Fatu were born.