Can Science Save the Northern White Rhinoceros From Extinction?

PetMD Editorial
Published: June 05, 2018
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In March of 2018 on the Ol Pejeta wildlife conservation sanctuary, the last male northern white rhinoceros (NWR), Sudan, passed away. Now, there are only two northern white rhinoceroses left in the world, both of which are female.

When the last male northern white rhinoceros passed away, many believed that extinction was imminent for the critically endangered animals. However, science is offering a viable means for reviving the population.

Tech Times reports that Oliver Ryder, director of conservation genetics at San Diego Zoo Global, and his colleagues are confident that they can help revive the northern white rhinoceros species using assisted reproduction or advanced cloning technologies.

A 2018 study was published that further supports Ryder’s plan. The study explains, “Its extinction would appear inevitable, but the development of advanced cell and reproductive technologies such as cloning by nuclear transfer and the artificial production of gametes via stem cells differentiation offer a second chance for its survival.”

The San Diego Zoo Frozen Zoo has actually collected and banked fibroblast cell lines from 12 northern white rhinoceros over the past 30 years. The study explains, “These cells correspond to the remaining living genetic material of the NWR, and as proposed by Saragusty et al. (2016) could be used for its genetic rescue.”

While these genetic technological advances offer some hope for the virtually extinct northern white rhinoceros, there are still some concerns. One of the biggest ones is that even if they do revive the population, they became endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching, which are still ongoing concerns. That means that any resulting offspring would have to be raised in captivity.

As Tech Times reports, “Jason Gilchrist, an ecologist at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, was cautious about reviving a species that could no longer live in their natural habitat. In the case of the Northern White Rhino, illegal poaching activities in Africa were a big factor in their extinction. Gilchrist could not see the point of resurrecting their population if the entire species would merely stay in captivity.”

With poaching still being a very real, and very serious concern, the result puts wildlife conservationists in a bit of a catch-22. Do we save a virtually extinct species through the use of science only for them to remain in captivity?

The preservation of the northern white rhinoceros is paramount, but it is clear that is it a multipronged problem that is going to require a thorough and comprehensive management plan to ensure the humane survival of the species.

Image via Shutterstock

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