Researchers accomplished their first artificial insemination attempt on a southern white rhinoceros at the San Diego Zoo, as part of an effort to save the critically endangered northern white rhino.
This marks the first time San Diego Zoo Global researchers attempted the procedure. According to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the procedure is a key step in developing assisted reproductive technologies to save the northern white rhino from extinction.
There are only three northern white rhinos currently left on Earth.
“This procedure was historic for us, as it was our first time to attempt artificial insemination on a rhino,” said Barbara Durrant, Ph.D., director of Reproductive Sciences, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, in a statement. “The sperm had excellent motility, the procedure went very well, the rhinos involved are doing great and now we wait and hope for a pregnancy.”
The artificial insemination was carried out July 6 on a 9-year-old rhino named Amani, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, announced zoo officials.
Amani was relocated to the Safari Park from private reserves in South Africa in November 2015, along with five other southern white rhinos. Researchers hope the southern white rhinos may serve as potential surrogates for a northern white rhino embryo in the future.
"Pregnancy is not only important for the individual rhino’s reproductive health," explained Durrant. "But also when we make northern white rhino embryos, we would never risk putting a precious northern white rhino embryo into the uterus of a female who was not proven to be reproductively fit.”
The results of the artificial insemination will not be available for many weeks, according to zoo officials. Next week, they will start doing ultrasound scans on the rhino, examining both uterine horns for evidence of a fetus.
If the procedure proves successful, the first southern white rhino calf born at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center could arrive as early as November.