Pregnant rhino in San Diego could help save subspecies
SAN DIEGO — A southern white rhino has become pregnant through artificial insemination at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park — giving hope for efforts to save a subspecies, researchers announced Thursday.
Scientists will be watching closely to see if Victoria the rhino can carry her calf to term over 16 to 18 months of gestation.
If she does, researchers hope someday she could serve as a surrogate mother and could give birth to the related northern white rhino, whose population is down to two females after decades of decimation by poachers. The two female northern white rhinos live in a Kenya wildlife preserve and are not capable of bearing calves. The last northern white male rhino, named Sudan, was euthanized in March at the Kenya preserve due to ailing health and old age.
Victoria is the first to become pregnant of six female southern white rhinos the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is testing to determine if they are fit to be surrogate mothers. If they pass the testing, they could carry northern white rhino embryos sometime within the next decade as scientists work to recreate northern white rhino embryos.
Scientists hope to use frozen skin cells preserved from dead northern white rhinos to transform them into stem cells and eventually sperm and eggs. Then the scientists would use in vitro fertilization to create embryos that would be put in the six female rhinos.
The ultimate goal — which could take decades — is to create a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos that would be returned to their natural habitat in Africa.