For several years, I wrote about the plight of white rhinos in this column.
When I was writing about the incredible poaching of rhinos for their horns, it was estimated that there were 20,000 white rhinos remaining in the world at that time. These massive beasts once roamed grasslands of Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That was in 2013. Now, there are only two rhinos remaining. Two! Both, female – the only living bull rhino died in 2018.
All may not be lost, however. An article this month on Treehugger.com, by Melissa Breyer, stated that after much research an international consortium of scientists and conservationists has devised a way to harvest eggs from these last two female rhinos and hopefully save the species. These rhinos are so old that they cannot carry the young through to birth.
The whole procedure went like this: “…veterinarians were successful in harvesting eggs from the two females…who live in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Never before attempted in northern white rhinos, the girls were given general anesthesia for the procedure – in which doctors used a probe guided by ultrasound – that was developed after years of research and practice.”
Breyer continues, “Seven of the ten eggs harvested successfully matured and were artificially inseminated … with frozen sperm from northern white rhino bulls … who died in 2014 and 2018. If successful embryo development follows, it will be transferred to a southern white rhino surrogate mother.”
“The number of harvested oocytes is a wonderful success and proof that the unique cooperation between scientists, and experts in zoos and conservationists in field can lead to hopeful prospects even for the animals that are imminently facing extinction,” said Jan Stejskal from Dvur Kralove Zoo, where the two rhinos were born. “The concerted efforts to save the last northern white rhinos should guide the resolutions the world makes at the ongoing CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting in Geneva. The assisted reproductive technique should galvanize the world’s attention to the plight of all rhinos and make us avoid decisions that undermine law enforcement and fuel demand for the rhino horn,” added Najib Balala, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for tourism and wildlife.
So, we find ourselves in the brink of the 2020s and hundreds, if not thousands of species, are near extinction. Think of the rainforests on fire in Brazil destroying hundreds of acres a day. How many species are we losing that have not even been discovered!
We knew in 2013 that white rhinos were headed toward extinction, yet poaching continued at alarming rates to the edge of the cliff. Cutting off horns until there were only two animals left. What is the point of that? Are people so narrow-minded that they literally do not see the forest for the trees? Depleting a resource until it is completely gone forever!
It is indeed bittersweet that scientists were needed to continue the species. Hopefully, embryos will form and in a year and a half we’ll be celebrating new white rhino babies.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.