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29.07.2021 20:02

BioRescue creates another three northern white rhino embryos: bringing total to 12

Dipl. Soz. Steven Seet Wissenschaftskommunikation
Leibniz-Institut für Zoo- und Wildtierforschung (IZW) im Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

    In another exciting step towards the future of the northern white rhino, three more pure northern white rhino embryos have been created by the global team of scientists and conservationists working to save the species. This time, they were also able to use sperm from a different bull, improving the genetic diversity of the embryos.

    On July 9th, the scientists and conservationists of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Kenya Wildlife Service and Ol Pejeta Conservancy conducted the sixth successful oocyte collection at Ol Pejeta. Immediately after the oocyte retrieval, the 17 eggs – which makes it a total of 80 eggs since the procedures started in 2019 – were airlifted to Avantea laboratory in Cremona, Italy for maturation, fertilisation, embryo development and cryopreservation. Two of the embryos were produced using semen from northern white rhino bull Suni, who has provided the genetics for all the existing embryos. This time the specialists at Avantea were also able to use semen from Angalifu, a northern white rhino bull who lived in San Diego Safari Park and died in 2014. His sperm was previously thought to be incapable to successfully fertilize eggs. However, after conducting a sperm viability test using different batches of pig oocytes, the scientists were able to identify viable sperm that enabled them to create another first-grade embryo. This excellent result adds the genetics of a completely unrelated individual to the cryo-preserved population.

    “Once again the use of knowledge coming from livestock species has helped to identify a batch of Angalifu semen that could eventually be used successfully to produce viable embryos,” said Prof. Cesare Galli of Avantea. “We are impressed by the number of embryos obtained from the 17 oocytes, given the paucity of eggs and the quality of the semen. It also indicates that conducting the procedure performed on a regular basis is not only harmless to Fatu but also raises the number of embryos obtained.”

    In a discussion prior to the ovum pick up of July 9th, the team decided not to perform an oocyte collection on Nájin, the oldest of the two northern white rhinos. Her future role in the scientific programme will be discussed in the coming weeks from an ethical perspective, and an evidence-based decision will be announced. So far, none of Nájin’s eggs have been of sufficient quality to turn into viable embryos – all 12 embryos produced so far used oocytes from Nájin’s daughter, Fatu.

    “During the recent procedures it was clear that Nájin’s ovaries are no longer producing large number of eggs and that their quality is compromised,” said Jan Stejskal, Director of International Projects at Safari Park Dvůr Králové. “She is an old lady, and it seems it’s not worth subjecting her to the stress of any further procedures. However, her health status will be frequently monitored.”

    In further developments on the ground in Ol Pejeta, the preparation of the embryo transfers entered a crucial phase. Two southern white rhino females were moved into the enclosure with Owuan, the sterilised southern white rhino bull who is serving as the oestrus detector for the females as they come into season. The team is carefully monitoring the welfare of all the animals and will start to observe and record their behaviour and vocalizations in preparation for the first embryo transfers which are likely to begin by the end of the year.
    “We are very happy how BioRescue is progressing. The achievement of 12 embryos in total, including the first embryo from the northern white rhino bull Angalifu as well as the successful translocation of the two potential surrogates into Owuan’s enclosure demonstrate the quality of this joint project,” said Prof. Thomas B. Hildebrandt, BioRescue project leader and Head of the Department of Reproduction Management, Leibniz-IZW. “We are now focussing on the first embryo transfer in the upcoming months.”

    “The welfare of all the animals involved in the project is constantly monitored both throughout the ethical risk assessment of the procedures whenever they are taking place, and the individual behavioural observations”, said Barbara de Mori, Director of the Ethics Laboratory for Veterinary Medicine, Conservation and Animal Welfare of Padua University. “A dedicated staff from both Padua University and KWS and Ol Pejeta is constantly working on data collection and is checking all the details of the daily welfare of the individual animals”.
    The BioRescue research programme, significantly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and additional donors such as foundation Nadace ČEZ, the philanthropist Dr. Richard McLellan, Merck and GE HeathCare, will continue with its ambitious plan to create more embryos from oocytes collected from the northern white rhino females in a three to four-month cycle as long as the COVID-19 pandemic allows for the team to travel to Kenya. With the relocation of surrogates completed, a successful embryo transfer is the next main step the BioRescue team aims at.

    “It is very encouraging to note that the project has continued to make good progress in its ambitious attempts to save an iconic species from extinction. With 12 pure northern white rhinoceros’ embryos so far developed, the project should now focus on the next steps of embryos transfer into the surrogate females at Ol Pejeta Conservancy for it to achieve its ultimate objective,” said Kenya’s Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Hon. Najib Balala.

    Media Package

    A collection of photographs and a selection of video footage can be accessed through the following link:$/

    The photographs shall only be used in direct connection with the story depicted in this press release and credit must be “BioRescue / Rio the Photographer”.

    The video footage shall only be used in direct connection with the story depicted in this press release and credit must be “BioRescue/Jan Zwilling”.

    Youtube: Hightech for Conservation:


    Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW)

    The Leibniz-IZW is an internationally renowned German research institute of the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. and a member of the Leibniz Association. Our mission is to examine evolutionary adaptations of wildlife to global change and develop new concepts and measures for the conservation of biodiversity. To achieve this, our scientists use their broad interdisciplinary expertise from biology and veterinary medicine to conduct fundamental and applied research – from molecular to landscape level – in close dialogue with the public and stakeholders. Additionally, we are committed to unique and high-quality services for the scientific community.

    Safari Park Dvůr Králové

    Safari Park Dvůr Králové is a safari park in the Czech Republic. It’s one of the best rhino breeders outside of Africa and the only place where the northern white rhino bred in human care - both remaining females, Najin and Fatu, were born here. Safari Park Dvůr Králové coordinates efforts to save the northern white rhinos.

    Kenya Wildlife Service

    Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is a state corporation that was established by an Act of Parliament (Cap 376), now repealed by WCMA (2013), with the mandate to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya, and to enforce related laws and regulations. KWS undertakes conservation and management of wildlife resources across all protected area systems including community conservancies in collaboration with stakeholders.

    Ol Pejeta Conservancy

    Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000-acre wildlife conservancy working to conserve wildlife, to provide a sanctuary for great apes and to generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprises for re-investment in conservation and community development. It is a key conservation area in the wider Laikipia ecosystem and aims to manage sustainable, diverse and healthy wildlife populations in an integrated wildlife and livestock system. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa and is the only place in Kenya to see chimpanzees. It is also home to the last two northern white rhinos on the planet. Ol Pejeta’s cutting-edge wildlife security includes a specialised K-9 unit, motion sensor cameras along its solar-powered electric fence, and a dedicated Rhino Protection Unit. Ol Pejeta also integrates livestock with wildlife – both as a means to earn revenue for conservation but also as a rangeland management tool.


    Avantea is a laboratory of advanced technologies for biotechnology research and animal reproduction based in Cremona, Italy. Avantea is a world leader in its field, has over twenty years of experience and the know-how in assisted reproduction of livestock developed through years of research conducted in the biomedical and animal reproduction fields.

    University of Padua

    University of Padua in Italy is one of the oldest in the world, celebrating 800 years. Its Department of Comparative Biomedicine and Food Science is developing leading research and education in the field of wildlife conservation and welfare with a special focus on ethical assessment and evaluation of research projects and educational programs.

    San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

    San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is a nonprofit international conservation leader, committed to inspiring a passion for nature and creating a world where all life thrives. The Alliance empowers people from around the globe to support their mission to conserve wildlife through innovation and partnerships. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance supports cutting-edge conservation and brings the stories of their work back to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park—giving millions of guests, in person and virtually, the opportunity to experience conservation in action. The work of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance extends from San Diego to strategic and regional conservation “hubs” across the globe, where their strengths—via their “Conservation Toolbox,” including the renowned Wildlife Biodiversity Bank—are able to effectively align with hundreds of regional partners to improve outcomes for wildlife in more coordinated efforts. By leveraging these tools in wildlife care and conservation science, and through collaboration with hundreds of partners, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has reintroduced more than 44 endangered species to native habitats. Each year, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s work reaches over 1 billion people in 150 countries via news media, social media, their websites, educational resources and the San Diego Zoo Kids channel, which is in children’s hospitals in 13 countries. Success is made possible by the support of members, donors and guests to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, who are Wildlife Allies committed to ensuring All Life Thrive.


    Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW)
    Prof. Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt
    BioRescue project head and head of Department of Reproduction Management

    Steven Seet
    Head of Science Communication

    Safari Park Dvůr Králové
    Jan Stejskal
    Director of Communication and International Projects

    Ol Pejeta Conservancy
    PR / Communications
    +254 / 706 475 737

    Ol Pejeta Conservancy
    Samuel Mutisya
    Head of Conservation
    +254 / 720 828 231

    Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
    Dr. David Ndeereh
    Head, Veterinary Services
    +254/722 556 380

    Cesare Galli
    +39 / 0372437242
    +39 335 6240261

    Padua University
    Barbara de Mori
    Director of the Ethics Laboratory for Veterinary Medicine, Conservation and Animal +39 / 3403747666

    Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

    Prof. Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt
    BioRescue project head and head of Department of Reproduction Management

    Weitere Informationen:


    The last two northern white rhinoceroses
    The last two northern white rhinoceroses
    BioRescue_Rio the photographer
    BioRescue_Rio the photographer

    Merkmale dieser Pressemitteilung:
    Journalisten, Lehrer/Schüler, Studierende, Wirtschaftsvertreter, Wissenschaftler, jedermann
    Biologie, Gesellschaft, Medizin, Umwelt / Ökologie
    Forschungs- / Wissenstransfer, Forschungsergebnisse


    The last two northern white rhinoceroses

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