Southern white rhino pregnant thanks to artificial insemination

A southern white rhino is pregnant with a lot of help from science.

Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research announced yesterday the artificial insemination of rhino named Victoria with sperm from a male southern white rhino could be first step in helping its northern white rhino cousins face down extinction.

Currently, there are only two northern white rhinos left in the world. And both are female. The planet’s last male member of the species, a rhino named Sudan, died in March.

Victoria’s pregnancy is an “important milestone” in perfecting the science.

“The confirmation of this pregnancy through artificial insemination represents an historic event for our organization but also a critical step in our effort to save the northern white rhino,” Barbara Durrant, the facility’s director of reproductive sciences said in a statement.

Victoria’s baby, the result of artificial insemination, is due in the summer of 2019/San Diego Zoo Institute

Victoria, one of six female southern white rhinos, that left private reserves in South Africa in November, 2015 for San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

She was impregnated on March 22. Since gestation lasts from 16 to 18 months, if her calf is carried full term, it would be born in the summer of 2019.

Artificial insemination hasn’t been attempted at many zoos and to date, there have only been a handful of live births.

“Just the fact that we have been able to confirm this pregnancy while the embryo is just a few weeks old is tremendously important and is all due to the work that animal care staff have put into developing relationships with these rhinos,”  Parker Pennington, post doctoral associate, said in a statement.

And Victoria is cooperating in the ultrasounds and with researchers who are caring for her.

Excited reproduction experts check in with Victoria via ultrasound/San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

Victoria still has a long way to go.

And so does science to research the goal of producing a northern white rhino.

Much of that is being done in the lab as experts are sequencing the genome of the northern white rhino to understand the similarities and differences with their southern relatives.

Cells have also been preserved from 12 individual northern white rhinos and are currently being held in the facilities “Frozen Zoo.”

Those need to be converted to stem cells that could develop into sperm and eggs.

That way, fertility techniques such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, with the southern white rhinos acting as potential surrogates, could be attempted.

“There are many challenges ahead, but researchers are optimistic that a northern white rhino calf could be born from these processes within 10 to 15 years,” the institute says. “This work also may be applied to other rhino species, including critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinos.”

For now, this is a huge win.

Photos San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research

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