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Czechs join attempt to prevent northern white rhino’s extinction

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Dvur Kralove nad Labem, East Bohemia, Dec 5 (CTK) – Scientists in Kenya and Europe, including Czechs, are planning an in vitro fertilisation of rhino eggs, a unique operation, as a last chance to prevent the northern white rhinoceros from total extinction, Jan Stejskal, from the Dvur Kralove zoo, has told CTK.

The experts want to take eggs from female northern white rhino, fertilise them and plant in a surrogate mother – a female of the southern white rhino, a close but less endangered species, Stejskal said.

The first eggs could be taken in the first quarter of 2018. The operation is being jointly prepared by scientists from the Czech Republic, Kenya, Britain and South Africa.

Last three specimen of the northern white rhinoceros, including two females, survive in the world. They are incapable of natural breeding and the species will die out unless a young is born.

“In view of the last two females’ [high] age, the vets and reproduction biologists have only a limited time for trying to take eggs from them, using a method that was developed to apply to these females,” Stejskal said.

The three surviving northern rhinos live in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta nature reserve and all of them belong to the Dvur Kralove zoo, from where they were imported in 2009 in an attempt to boost their natural breeding. The attempt failed, however.

The only chance for the species’s salvation is its in vitro reproduction involving the southern white rhino as surrogate mothers.

In the past months, preparations for the unique treatment were tested on the taking and preservation of eggs of southern rhinos in European zoos and their in vitro fertilisation.

Now the experts are going to apply the procedure to the last two surviving northern rhino females, Najin and Fatu, which live in Ol Pejeta and are 28 and 17 years old, respectively, Stejskal said.

For the fertilisation, experts will use the sperm of several northern rhino males who died in recent years, which is deposited in Berlin.

If the egg taking procedure succeeds, the eggs will be transferred to the Avantea laboratory, Italy, where scientists will try to fertilise it. Afterwards, the embryos would be brought back to Kenya and placed in surrogate southern rhino mothers, five of which have already been selected in Ol Pejeta, Stejskal said.

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