There is ray of hope for northern white rhino after scientists discovered a genetic analysis that may hold the key to saving the rhino’s rapid descent into extinction.
Sudan, the world’s last standing male northern white rhino, died in March. He was the last male northern white rhino and last hope for the breed in the world.
The rhino was being treated for age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds.
With the death of Sudan, scientists have scrambled to find ways to save the subspecies.
A new DNA study shows northern white rhinos have mated and exchanged genes with the southern white rhinos in the past.
In turn, this would be a viable option if other methods of using pure northern white rhino genetic material fail.
In the study published in the journal proceedings of the Royal Society, co-author of the study Michael Bruford said experiments conducted in the lab between northern white sperm and southern white egg showed promising results.
He said one of the key avenues being pursued is a ‘hybrid rescue’ strategy, creating rhino embryos using sperm collected from northern whites before they died combined with eggs from the far more common southern variety.
“They are different but have had the ability to exchange genes in the past. This happened during the ice ages when African grasslands expanded, bringing the two populations into contact,” he added.
According to the study, if reproductive technologies involving only northern white rhino genes fail, scientists could consider using southern white females for in vitro fertilisation.