Last Northern white rhinos retired from breeding project

32-year-old Rhino Najin leaves her daughter Fatu as the sole egg donor in the embryo implantation scheme.

The last two white rhinos are being retired from a breeding programme aimed at saving this species from extinction. Najin is the mother of Fatu is now 32 years old.  Fatu remains as the only potential donor in the program where embryos that are artificially developed are implanted to save other species from extinction

At present, there are no known living male white rhinos and neither of the remaining two can rhinos can carry a calf to term. Northern white rhinos which are grey in color once freely roamed several countries in east and central Africa. Their numbers rapidly fell due to widespread poaching for their treasured horns. 

Since 2019, a multinational consortium collected eggs from Najin and Fatu for all assisted reproductive programmes previously untried in rhinos. The highly risky procedure was carried about by a team of international vegetarians which saw them anesthetized for two hours and the eggs extraction technique has added years of research and development.  Biorescue teams led by researchers from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and wildlife research across Germany have been racing against time to save this endangered mammal. 

In a statement, Biorescue defended the decision to retire the older of the two females from the programme to ethical concerns. Najin’s age and signs of illness were taken into consideration. Scientists are still hoping to implant embryos made from rhino egg cells and frozen sperm from deceased males transferred into surrogate mothers.

In July, a consortium of multinationals collected eggs from Najin and Fatu through an assisted reproduction programme. This highly risky procedure was carried out by a team of international vets. The duo was anesthetized for about two hours and their eggs were extracted using techniques developed after years of research and development.

All the harvested eggs were airlifted to an Italian lab for fertilization, development, and preservation - relying on the sperm from two different deceased males. In July the same team created three additional embryo species raising the total number to twelve. The viable embryos are from younger rhinos and the programme is not without its risks despite the expert care taken. The reproduction programme is the last chance of survival for the majestic animal.

Sudan the last male white rhino died in 2018 at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy where Najin and Fatu reside under 24-hour guard. Rhinos are few natural predators whose numbers have been decimated to poaching since 2018. Modern rhinos have roamed the planet for over 26 million years with a million in the world by the mid-19th century.