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Seven eggs from last northern white rhinos successfully fertilised

Reuters, August 28, 2019 7:00PM Reuters

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Najin, 30, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya on August 21, 2019. She is one of only two surviving northern white rhinos. Picture: AFP/Ol Pejeta Conservancy/ Ami Vitale media_cameraNajin, 30, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya on August 21, 2019. She is one of only two surviving northern white rhinos. Picture: AFP/Ol Pejeta Conservancy/ Ami Vitale

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Seven eggs from the world’s last two northern white rhinos have been successfully fertilised artificially, reviving hopes of saving the endangered animals.

The last male northern white rhinoceros, a 45-year-old named Sudan, died last year in Kenya, leaving only the two surviving female members of the species.

Najin and Fatu are Sudan’s daughter and granddaughter and the three animals lived together at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, about 250km north of Nairobi, Kenya, where Sudan died.

media_cameraTourists visit the Rhino-memorial at the Ol-Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, where there are headstones bearing names of dead rhinos, including Sudan, the world’s last northern white rhino male, who died in 2018. Picture: AFP

The team of scientists that artificially fertilised the eggs is led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany.

The scientists said in a statement they had harvested 10 eggs from Najin and Fatu and that seven of those had been successfully matured and artificially inseminated* on Sunday.

media_cameraDr. Susanne Holtze from Leibniz-IZW following the removal of eggs from a female northern white rhino. The scientists then flew with the eggs to Italy to continue the process. Picture: AFP/Ol Pejeta Conservancy/Ami Vitale

The sperm* used in the process had been harvested from two bulls of the same species and kept frozen.

“This is the next critical step in hopefully creating viable* embryos* that can be frozen and then later on transferred to southern white rhino surrogate* mothers,” the scientists said.

“We were surprised by the high rate of maturation achieved as we do not get such a high rate … with southern white rhino females in European zoos.”

Results of possible embryo development will be announced on September 10.

media_cameraNajin, 30, left, and Fatu, 19, right, the last two northern white rhinos on the planet, graze in their enclosure at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya Friday, August 23. Picture: AP

NORTHERN WHITE RHINOS
Najin and Fatu are the only northern white rhinos left.

Northern white rhinos and southern white rhinos are two different subspecies of the white rhinoceros.

White rhinos’ scientific name is Ceratotherium simum. They are also known as square-lipped rhinos because their top lip is square rather than pointy.

White rhinos are the second-largest land mammal, after elephants. Adult males can reach 1.85m tall and weigh 3.6 tonnes.

There are about 20,000 southern white rhinos alive now after a big effort to bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Poaching is still a major threat to southern white rhinos as they are valued for their long horns. The front horn is usually 60cm long but can grow to 1.5m.

media_cameraTaronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, NSW, welcomed the birth of a southern white rhino calf, now 10 days old. Picture: supplied

A NEW BABY
Taronga Western Plains Zoo has just announced the birth of a new baby southern white rhino on Sunday, August 18 at Dubbo, NSW.

The 74kg female calf was born to mother Mopani.

It is hoped that the calf will one day be able to have its own babies to help keep the southern white rhino species safe from extinction.

The calf doesn’t yet have a name and the zoo plans to run a competition in the future to help find a name for it.

Dubbo's Taronga Zoo welcomes White Rhino calf

ARTIFICIAL FERTILISATION
The eggs from the female rhinos were artificially fertilised.

This scientific process is called in vitro fertilisation, IVF for short.

In vitro means outside the body, or, literally, “in the glass”, as in, in a glass container in a science laboratory.

media_cameraScientist Paola Turini works at the Avantea laboratory in Italy during the artificial fertilisation of eggs from the last two remaining female of northern white rhinos. Picture: AP

IVF has led to the birth of millions of human babies since it was first tried in the 1970s.

The first human IVF baby was Louise Brown, who celebrated her 40th birthday on July 25, 2018.

Cambridge scientist Professor Robert Edwards holding baby Louise Joy Brown, with unnamed midwife and fertility specialist Dr Patrick Steptoe following her 25 Jul 1978 birth at Oldham General Hospital, world's first IVF baby. media_cameraScientist Professor Robert Edwards holding baby Louise Joy Brown, with an unnamed nurse and fertility specialist Dr Patrick Steptoe following her July 25, 1978 birth at Oldham General Hospital in the UK, the world’s first IVF baby.

GLOSSARY

  • inseminated: put an egg and sperm together so fertilisation can happen
  • sperm: a cell of male reproductive material used to fertilise an egg
  • viable: capable of working successfully
  • surrogate: substitute
  • embryo: a fertilised egg

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Describe what you know of Najin and Fatu’s family tree.
  2. What announcement is planned for September 10?
  3. What do you know about white rhino’s lips?
  4. What is Mopani’s calf’s name and birth weight?
  5. What is IVF and has it been used successfully in the past?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Write a lullaby
A lullaby is a song that helps babies go to sleep. Sometimes they tell special stories or pass down important information. Write the words for a special lullaby for the future baby northern rhinos. You could set the words to the music or tune of a lullaby you know.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Music 

2. Extension
Why do scientists go to so much trouble to try to stop animals like the northern white rhino from becoming extinct?

Imagine you are one of the scientists on the team in today’s story. Write a letter to the readers of Kids News explaining why your work is so important.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Punctuation thief
Pick a paragraph from the article, or about 3 sentences together if that’s easier, and rewrite it without the punctuation. At the bottom of the page write a list of all the punctuation you stole and in the order you stole it. For example; C , . C .

Then swap your book with another person and see if they can work out where the punctuation needs to go back to.

Make it easier: Underline where you stole the punctuation from but don’t put the list at the bottom in order.

Make it harder: Don’t put the punctuation in order at the bottom.

Underline where you took the punctuation from, but don’t tell them what pieces you took.

Just tell them how many pieces you took, but not what they are.

Don’t give them any clues!

HAVE YOUR SAY: Does it matter if the northern white rhinos become extinct? Why or why not?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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