Fatu and Nijan are the last two northern white rhinos left on the planet. They are both female and are a mother-daughter duo. The fate of the species now rest on assisted methods of reproduction. It's quite a challenge, but the teams are optimistic.
The international collaborative effort to save the northern white rhino from extinction has extracted another 14 egg cells from Fatu, one of the two females rhinos that make up the living remainder of the species. These will end up providing two viable fertilized eggs for the restoration programme, and while conservationists often use phrases like 'a glimmer of hope', this particular success is considerably better than a 'glimmer'.
The eggs have been flown to Milan, Italy, where they were combined with the frozen sperm from Suni, a deceased male rhino of the same species born in 1980. They now have a total of five fertilized eggs, essentially giving them five chances to get the next, and most critical part right: artificial insemination.
Though Suni is dead and Fatu cannot conceive, science has christened this couple the future of the northern white rhino.
The teams now just need to wait until either Fatu or Najin come on heat, and fly the fertilised eggs back to Kenya. “We plan to have a calf on the ground in two to three years,” David Hildebrandt, a Berlin-based expert on wildlife reproduction.
Apparently there are, amazingly, enough existing skin cells to create a stable and genetically diverse population that would be raised by surrogates, protected in sanctuaries, until 20 or 30 years from now when they can rejoin the spirits of their ancestors on the open plains of Kenya.
Whilst humanity has had a lot of unwanted ghastliness to contend with in 2020, one of the positive upsides has been a the extraordinary global renaissance for wildlife - partly through human absence caused by lockdown and partly through successful conservation efforts. We review some of the highlights to help put a smile on your face. More...