Conservation through Science
Embryo Plus is pioneering the use of Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART’s) in wildlife species. These techniques can be used to save critically endangered species and this work is of great significance as it is the first of its kind in the world.
Dr De la Rey’s work is considered to be among the first steps in an international collaborative effort to save endangered wild-life species such as the northern white rhino. There are only three northern white rhino left in the world – a rhino bull named Sudan, and his two cows, Najin and Fatu, who live in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The last northern white rhino in the U.S. died at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2015.
The San Diego Zoo Global has pledged to work with a team of scientists including Embryo Plus to save this rhino species and has created a herd of southern white rhinos that have been trained for non-invasive procedures that are providing unprecedented information about the reproductive physiology of rhinos.
“We were delighted to hear about the success of this technique with Cape buffalo,” Dr Barbara Durrant, reproductive physiologist for San Diego Zoo Global, said. “We look forward to working with Embryo Plus in an effort to bring back the northern white rhino for the future.”
In 2003, Dr Morné de la Rey also received world-wide acclaim for his involvement in the cloning of the first animal on the African continent, a healthy Holstein heifer named Futhi, born in April 2003 at the Embryo Plus Centre at Brits. No semen or bull was involved in the birth of this calf. Futhi was derived from a single cell taken by biopsy from the ear of a donor cow, which was then inserted into an empty cow-egg and later implanted in a recipient cow.
According to Dr De la Rey, every success achieved with assisted reproductive technology in wild animals such as the Cape buffalo is a step closer to understanding the reproductive requirements of other wildlife species. “The first steps of wildlife conservation will always remain habitat protection followed by animal protection. In addition to these basic steps, however, there is a real need for improved breeding practices to ensure an increase in numbers of these endangered species.”
There are only three Northern white rhino left in the world. The rhino bull, named Sudan, and his two cows, Najin and Fatu, are at home at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. According to Dr de la Rey, every success achieved with ART’s in wild animals is a step closer to understanding other species’ reproduction requirements and how to apply assisted reproduction techniques in different species. Globally, a lot of research in rhino breeding is currently being done. South Africa is in the privileged position of still having the most Southern white rhino in the world.
Dr. de la Rey (Embryo Plus) and the team of San Diego Zoo will start an exciting research project at the Rhino Pride Foundation Sanctuary, which currently houses more than 40 Southern white rhinos, with the goal of obtaining success in IVF in rhino. Rhinos are considerably more difficult to work with than most other species, due to the size and sensitive nature of the animals. Specialized equipment will have to be designed, tested and manufactured for effective use on rhino. Once these procedures have been successfully implemented with Southern white rhino, the techniques could be applied on the Northern white rhino to try and save them from extinction.
This will be Dr. De La Rey and the research team’s next goal, and parallel to this there is the possibility of doing similar work with the extremely endangered mountain bongo of Kenya. There are only 30-50 bongo left in 3 areas in Kenya. The planned research for this project will be conducted at the envisaged endangered species breeding centre to be established at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya.