IVF Rhino Pregnancy

Wednesday 24 January 2024


We are thrilled to share breaking news from our partners at Ol Pejeta Conservancy of the world’s first successful rhino pregnancy from invitro fertilisation. 

As part of efforts by the Bio Rescue Project, backed by an international team of organisations, to save the northern white rhino from extinction, a female southern white rhino was implanted with an embryo created from egg and sperm donated by two other southern white rhinos. After 13 attempts this ground-breaking, and incredibly complicated procedure was successful, and the surrogate became pregnant.  

Najin and Fatu northern white rhino

photo: Jan Zwilling

Tragically just 70 days into the pregnancy the female rhino passed away after becoming infected with Clostridia - a naturally occurring bacteria found in the soil. It was discovered that extremely heavy, climate change-related rains led to a flooding of the surrogate enclosure and set free dormant Clostridia bacteria spores which had infected and killed both the surrogate female and the bull  who also shared the area. A crisis team was assembled and established fast and effective measures to protect all semi-captive rhinos including the last two northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu. The measures included a vaccination programme and quarantine of effected areas.

Despite this tragic turn of events, the successful pregnancy is a huge cause for celebration as proof of concept that a rhino embryo could be successfully implanted into a surrogate female.  

This signals a huge step forward in efforts to save the northern white rhino from extinction. 

Invitro fertilisation has never before been attempted in rhinos, so there was no guarantee that the science could become a reality. We now have proof of that reality, and it is a reality where there is real hope for the birth of a northern white rhino calf in the not-too-distant future.  

Head of Wildlife Conservation at Ol Pejeta, Samual Mutisya commented
"the team at Ol Pejeta is committed to do all that is humanly possible to nurture, protect and recover the species".

We are incredibly proud to partner with Ol Pejeta in their work to protect their rhinos and to create a future for the northern white rhino. We would also like to congratulate the Biorescue Project, Leibniz Institute, Safari Park Dvur Králové, and the Kenya Wildlife Service, as well as the myriad other organisations involved in this ground-breaking conservation milestone.  

Helping Rhinos CEO, Simon Jones added "this is a hugely important day in the work to creat a future for the northern white rhino on our planet. Despite the tragic news about the surrogate mother rhino, it brings us a step closer to restoring some of the untold damage caused on this species at the hands of humans".

You too can play a part in this historic moment by adopting Najin or Fatu, currently the last northern white rhinos in the world, and become part of the extended team overseeing their welfare day in and day out.

Adopt Najin and Fatu

"While bittersweet, to have had the world's first pregnancy in a rhino after a successful surrogate transfer on Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a point of great pride for us all. We look forward to welcoming future surrogates rhino calves under the foothills of Mount Kenya very soon."

Justin Heath
CEO, Ol Pejeta Conservancy

"The application of novel assisted reproductive techniques in an effort to save the northern white rhino from extinction has borne fruit with major milestones having been achieved in optimization of the embryo transfer procedures in rhinos."

Dr. Erustus Kanga
Director General, Kenya Wildlife Service

"The embryo transfer technique for rhinos has been completely uncharted territory and anything from the approach over procedure protocols to required equipment had to be invented, developed, tried and tested to be safe for use. Together with the team and many professional partners, I developed the devices that can actually find and access the required place where to insert the tiny embryo into a 2-ton animal. It took many years to get it right and we are over whelmed that we now have proof that this technique works perfectly."

Thomas Hildebrandt
BioRescue Project Head, Leibniz-IZW

IVF surrogate mum
photo: Jan Zwilling

Biorescue embryo transfer
photo: Jan Zwilling

IVF rhino foetus
photo: Jon Juarez