San Diego Zoo Hopes to Breed Rhinos Through Artificial Insemination

Following the death of an elderly white rhino at the Dvůr Králové zoo in the Czech Republic, Nola, a northern white rhinoceros being treated at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is now one fourth of the world’s northern white rhino population. It is now unsurprisingly the most endangered species in the world.

The Safari Park is using science to fight the rhino’s extinction. The Frozen Zoo, in collaboration with the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, is a genetic project to help save endangered species. The zoo has viable stem cells taken from twelve white rhinos to restore genetic variation. The rhino stem cells, first saved in 1979, can be used to reproduce any tissue in the rhino’s body, the zoo says. 

Through advancements in genetic research, the Safari Park hopes to use whole genome sequencing to learn about genetic diversity in the white rhino and hopefully one day repopulate the species.

“Multiple steps must be accomplished to reach the goal of establishing a viable population that can be reintroduced into the species range in Africa, where it is now extinct,” said Oliver Ryder Ph.D., Director of Genetics for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research in a release. “A first step involves sequencing the genomes of northern white rhinos to clarify the extent of genetic divergence from their closest relative, the southern white rhino.”

Poaching has brought the rhino to this desperate place. In Asia it has been widely hunted for its horns, which are believed to cure certain illnesses.

The zoo began collecting skin samples from endangered animals in 1972. When the Frozen Zoo started, genetic science was not advanced enough to make use of the genetic samples, but with the developments in today’s genomic research, scientists are much closer to breeding rhinos artificially.

The Frozen Zoo has samples from 8400 animals, representing over 800 species. The animals include Gobi bears, pandas, mountain gorillas, condors and the California gray whale.

“The reproductive system of rhinos is very complex and there is still so much we do not know,” said Barbara Durrant Ph.D, reproductive physiologist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research in a release. “We will meet the challenge to save this beautiful animal by combining recent advances in genetic and reproductive technology with our expertise in animal care and welfare.”

Sudan, a 42-year-old rhino, is the only living male known in the world. Sudan lives in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, under 24-hour armed guard. In an effort of discourage poachers, the conservancy has cut off Sudan’s horn.

Those who want to help can click here to donate to help build a Rhino Care Center at the Safari Park.

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