Scientists Implant White Rhino Embryo into Surrogate, Raising Hopes of Resurrecting Species

Jan 26, 2024

Many experts had all but given up hope of saving the northern white rhino from extinction. There are only two left in the world. And both rhinos are females that can't have babies.  

But a research team has announced they have a solution that could save the northern white rhinos. The team successfully transferred an embryo from a similar southern white rhino into a surrogate mother. Southern white rhinos are less endangered than the northern white rhinos. The team said this shows a process that could be used to breed northern white rhinos. A healthy male fetus is growing inside the surrogate, the team announced.

The research team works for a group called BioRescue. It's backed by the German government. The team chose to use a southern white rhino embryo first because they did not want to waste any of the 30 northern white rhino embryos they had. Those were made using sperm from two now-dead male northern white rhinos. The genetic material was used to fertilize eggs from Fatu, one of the two surviving females. She lives in a Kenyan sanctuary with her mother.  

Both rhinos are guarded at all times. That's because northern white rhinos have been hunted to near-extinction by poachers.   

"I think with this achievement, we are very confident that we will be able to create northern white rhinos in the same manner and that we will be able to save the species," an expert at the Leibniz Institute told the BBC. The Leibniz Institute is taking part in the BioRescue rhino project.  

The research team says they plan to quickly move to the next phase. That means they will implant northern white rhino embryos into surrogates. Two more surrogates have been chosen. Their names are Arimet and Daly.    

Photo from Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Karimi Ngore.

Reflect: Do you think it's important for humans to take action to protect and preserve endangered species? What role can science play in these efforts?

Based on numbers that appear in the story, how many northern white rhinos are mentioned to be currently alive? (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. 2
b. 5
c. 10
d. 30
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