Pregnant rhino in San Diego could help save sub­species

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - JULIE WAT­SON

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.

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