Story at a glance

  • Only two northern white rhinos, both females, are known to exist in the world.
  • One is being retired from donating eggs in a breeding program working to save the species from extinction.
  • The northern white rhino once had an abundant population, but it was decimated by poachers killing them for their horns.

One of the last two existing northern white rhinos is retiring from a breeding program working to save the species from extinction.

“In a special, in-depth ethical risk assessment, the team has reached the decision to retire the older of the two remaining females, 32-year-old Najin, as a donor of egg cells (oocytes),” Biorescue, the international project running the program, announced in a news release Thursday. “This leaves the ambitious programme with just one female that can provide oocytes, Najin’s daughter Fatu.”

 

As there are no known male northern white rhinos left in existence, the program aimed to use donor eggs from Najin and Fatu and artificially create embryos using frozen sperm from deceased males. These embryos would then be implanted in a different species of rhino in Kenya. With Najin no longer donating eggs, Fatu will be the last hope for the species.

“It was especially challenging to evaluate the importance of maximising the chances to save a species against the welfare of one individual animal,” professor Barbara de Mori said of the decision. 


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The northern white rhino once had an abundant population, but it was decimated by poachers killing them for their horns.

However, officials remain optimistic at the chances of successfully creating and implanting an embryo harvested from Fatu’s eggs. 

"We have been very successful with Fatu ... So far we have 12 pure northern white rhino embryos," David Ndeereh, acting deputy director for research at the Wildlife Research and Training Institute, told Reuters. "We are very optimistic that the project will succeed."


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Published on Oct 22, 2021