Saving the northern white rhinoceros

The Pairi Daiza Foundation has been making efforts for many years to conserve the northern white rhinoceros, a subspecies of which only two individuals remain worldwide. It supports the BioRescue Project, a consortium of scientists seeking to save this subspecies through in vitro fertilization techniques. Thanks to the Pairi Daiza Foundation, scientists from the BioRescue Project have been collecting oocytes from southern white rhinoceroses at Pairi Daiza for several years. The aim is to form an embryo of the southern white rhinoceros and validate the protocol before testing it with the remaining genetic material of the northern white rhinoceros.


A perfect transfer technique, confirmed under dramatic circumstances

On September 24, 2023, Catherine Vancsok, Scientific Director of the Pairi Daiza Foundation, and Alicia Quiévy, Head Veterinarian of Pairi Daiza, were present in Kenya to provide support during a crucial phase of the research. That day, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy (a nature reserve in Kenya), scientists from the BioRescue project implanted two embryos in Curra, the selected Southern white rhinoceros as a surrogate mother. Two months after the transfer, Curra was unfortunately found dead in the nature reserve, a victim of a deadly bacterium. The exceptionally heavy rainfall caused flooding of the surrogate mother’s enclosure and released dormant spores of the Clostridium bacterium.


A baby Northern white rhinoceros before 2027?

The autopsy of Curra revealed severe systemic poisoning, but also unveiled that Curra was carrying a male fetus of 70 days old, measuring 6.4 cm long. In January 2024, DNA analysis of the fetus confirmed that the pregnancy indeed resulted from the embryo transfer in September. The success of the embryo transfer now makes it safe to proceed to the next step: the embryo transfer of the Northern white rhinoceros. A dream that could become a reality within two to three years.


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