As Silvia Colleoni injected liquid into a micropipette for inserting the frozen sperm which had been removed from one of the last remaining male northern white rhinos, her hand trembled. She explained the cause of being emotional as it is a manual task and her work could determine if the species would continue to live or get extinct. The artificial fertilization of eggs from the last two remaining females was performed in the Avantea Laboratory in North Italy. The fertilisation process could result in the creation of seven embryos.
The entire procedure was filmed by the Associated Press who had exclusive access to the laboratory. Eggs were separated from the last remaining female northern white rhinos, Fatu and Najin. Then they were fertilised from the frozen sperms separated from males who were already dead. After 10 days, the result will be out if embryos were formed from the eggs or not. Experts are hoping for the reproduction to be carried through surrogacy as neither of the two females can get pregnant now.
The process is very strenuous and involves a lot of concentration as joysticks are used to guide the process of fertilisation. For increasing the chances of success, an electronic impulse is also sent. Cesare Galli, founder of Avantea said that they expect for the formation of embryos from some of them as the ultimate goal is to produce a minimum of five animals who would be returned to their natural habitat in Africa. But achieving this could take several decades.
Avantea reported that only seven from ten eggs which were extracted from the females in Kenya were fit for the process of artificial insemination. The sperm was extracted from northern white bulls, Suni and Saut who lived in a Czech Republic zoo. They are now dead. Their sperm was used to increase the chances of success, as Suni is the half-sibling of Najin. However, it was difficult to work with Saut’s sperm. Galli stated that for greater chances to facilitate the continuation of a species it is better not to wait till the last two individuals of a species are remaining. The last living male rhino was 45-year-old Sudan who was listed in the dating app Tinder and mentioned the “Most Eligible Bachelor” in an attempt to raise funds. However, he was later euthanized for age-related complications.
His sperm is still in Kenya, as in the future if it is possible to create more embryos then his sperm could be transferred. Northern white rhinos have decreased in population due to excessive poaching for several decades. Other types such as southern white rhino and black rhino are also targeted for their horns which are sold illegally in Asian markets.
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research situated in Germany, Avantea, Dvur Kralove Zoo in Czech Republic are some of the organisations trying to save the northern white rhino species.