Northern White Rhino Edge Closer to a Miracle

Thursday 24 January 2019

WHAT IS NEXT FOR THE NORTHERN WHITE RHINO

It is almost a year since the world lost the last male northern white rhino, Sudan. This world famous rhino was translocated to Ol Pejeta from the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic in 2009, along with another male, Suni, and Sudan’s daughter and granddaughter Najin and Fatu. Hopes were raised for the future of the northern white rhino when, in 2012, Suni and Najin were seen mating, but calf was conceived. Two years later, Suni died of natural causes. Fertility tests on the females revealed that neither was able to conceive naturally, and Sudan’s sperm count was confirmed as being dangerously low. During 2017, Sudan developed age-related wounds, to which he succumbed on 19th March 2018.

For the species of the northern white rhino, this was a dark day. Sudan’s passing rendered the northern white rhino functionally extinct. Scientists and conservationists did not give up however, and thanks to their commitment and boundless optimism, there is hope on the horizon. Individuals from all around the world have been working together, and in July 2018, after perfecting the ovum pick-up (OPU) and embryo production procedures, the Dvur Kralove Zoo, the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and Avantea in Cremona announced they had created a viable embryo made with sperm from a northern white rhino and an egg from a southern white rhino. This scientific breakthrough was greeted with euphoria around the world. The scientists are still in the process of perfecting the transfer to surrogates and are confident they will soon be successful.

The next critical step is to harvest eggs from Fatu and Najin.

“This requires a vast amount of paperwork, and we are currently obtaining the relevant permits for the procedure and transfer of the eggs. We are hopeful this procedure will happen in the early months of 2019, but no date has been set yet.” says Jan Stejskal, Director of International Projects at Dvur Kralove Zoo.

This will be an extraordinary development in the story of the northern white rhino, and we look forward to continuing to partner with Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the team around the world to see what happens next. We will keep you updated every step of the way.

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NORTHERN WHITE RHINO TIMELINE

1973 – Sudan born

1975 – Five northern whites captured and taken to Dv?r Králové Zoo in then Czechoslovakia

1980 – Suni born in captivity in Dv?r Králové Zoo

2009 – Four northern whites (Sudan, Suni, Fatu and Najin) moved to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya to try and promote breeding.

2012 – Suni and Najin mated, but did not result in pregnancy

2014 – October – Suni, second last norther white rhino male, dies of natural causes.

2014 – December - Vets confirm that neither female is able to breed, and Sudan’s sperm count is low

2015 – July – Dv?r Králové Zoo loses Nabire, the last northern white rhino in Europe

2015 - November – San Diego Zoo loses Nola, leaving only three northern white rhinos in the world, on Ol Pejeta.

2017 – April – Sudan is featured on a Tinder campaign to raise money for rhino IVF and rehabilitation

2017 – Sudan develops age-related wounds

2018 – March – Sudan dies from old age related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds, leaving his daughter and granddaughter as last remaining northern whites in the world.

2018 - July - Breakthrough in rhino IVF. Viable embryo made with sperm from northern white rhino and egg from southern white rhino

Fatu and Najin