Northern white rhinoceros: Longleat’s animals help species avoid extinction

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Three rhinos in a Wiltshire safari park will play a key role in saving the species from extinction.

Eggs collected from the Southern White Rhino Trio at Longleat will be used as part of a science project to help increase population numbers for the endangered subspecies.

A team of international scientists hope to use assisted reproductive technologies to produce offspring with the help of Razina, Ebun and Murashi.

Leah Russell, Chief Rhino Keeper at Longleat, said: “The goal is to use eggs taken from our females, fertilize them in vitro, and then implant them into surrogate female southern white rhinos. Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

“If this proves successful, then they will attempt to implant 12 pure northern rhino embryos, which were fertilized with frozen sperm from deceased males, into southern surrogates.”

The eggs of Razina, Ebun and Murashi (pictured) will be used in a project to resuscitate the northern white rhino population. Credit: Ian turner

There are only two known surviving northern white rhinos – Fatu and Najin – living under 24-hour surveillance in Kenya.

Scientists recognize that the stem cell project is a race against time for the subspecies.

Longleat is the first UK-based zoological collection to be involved in this groundbreaking project, with a number of other zoos in mainland Europe also participating.

The BioRescue research consortium is led by Professor Thomas Hildebrandt, Head of the Reproductive Management Department at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW).

He said: “BioRescue is such a difficult and complex science conservation project.

Dr. Susanne Holtze (right), Prof. Thomas Hildebrandt (center) and Dr. Daniel Čižmár (left) are involved in the breeding project Credit: Longleat Safari Park

“Therefore, it is really important that we are joined by competent international partners such as Longleat to master this ambitious mission. “

Professor Hildebrandt and his team will transport the extracted eggs to the Avantea laboratory in Italy where they will be fertilized using sperm from a male white rhino before being airlifted to Africa for implantation procedures.

The northern white rhino is a subspecies of the white rhino that lived in parts of Uganda, Chad, Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Years of widespread poaching and civil war in their natural habitat have reduced populations of northern white rhinos and they are now considered extinct in the wild.

Sudan, the last surviving male northern white rhino, died of age-related illness at Ol Pejeta Conservancy on March 19, 2018.

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