„Death of Nola is really bad news. With every dead individual, human responsibility for saving this critically endangered species is deepening,“ said Přemysl Rabas, director of Dvůr Králové Zoo. Presently, group of the top scientists in Europe led by Dvůr Králové Zoo and IZW Berlin is developing a method for artificial reproduction of northern white rhinos. Dvůr Králové Zoo is together with Ol Pejeta Conservancy trying to raise funds for this research with a Gofundme campaign called Make a Rhino. Another similar scientific group works in San Diego.
„Scientists have at their disposal biological material not only from our live animals but also from the already dead rhinos. Although our San Diego colleagues did not succeed in natural reproduction, there is still a hope that they can significantly contribute to the rescue of the northern white rhino through genetical technologies,“ added Přemysl Rabas.
In fact, Nola’s death does not prevent scientist from achieving this purpose. The female has been suffering from health problems for several months. The rhino's condition had worsened substantially on Saturday, and one day later zoo veterinarians made the decision to euthanize her.
With approval of Dvůr Králové Zoo, the samples were taken from dead Nola and there is still a possibility to use these samples for a potential artificial reproduction of northern white rhinos. Also, Dvůr Králové Zoo has been approached by Smithsonian Institute in Washington with a request to donate Nola’s remains to this institution. The negotiation has not been completed yet.
40 years lasting efforts
Dvůr Králové Zoo brought the initial group of northern white rhinos from Sudan in 1975. The zoo remains the only facility where northern white rhinos have bred. In total, four calves were reared here.
However, natural reproduction was not sufficient for the rescue of this species. Besides research of a hormonal cycle in Dvůr Králové, the zoo has cooperated with IZW Berlin on the artificial techniques of reproduction since 2001. Unfortunately, even repeated attempts to artificially inseminate females did not result in a rhino pregnancy. For that reason zoo decided to try another way how to prompt their breeding. In December 2009 the zoo moved its two females and two males to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
The animals acclimatized to African savanna very soon. Their state of health got better, moreover, hormonal cycles of both females improved. Repeated matings were observed but none of these came to fruition. In autumn 2014 one of the transported males died.
For this reason, Dvůr Králové Zoo together with IZW Berlin, Ol Pejeta and Kenya Widlife Service examined these last rhinos in November 2014. The health-checks proved that not a single female is capable of getting pregnant in a natural way. However, both females could become egg donors for a potential in vitro fertilization and artificial creation of embryos. Females of related southern white rhino then could carry the embryos to term as a surrogate mothers.
Dvůr Králové Zoo is appealing to people all over the world to help. All funds raised on our Gofundme page, gofundme.com/makearhino, go directly to the IVF initiative aimed at saving the northern white rhino.