Source: The Indian Express Relevance: GS III (Biodiversity and Environment-Conservation)

The northern white rhino was declared extinct in 2018 after the last male passed.

  • However, in 2015, a team of twenty scientists from five continents began a costly project to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) to recreate the subspecies.

  • The first rhino pregnancy ever accomplished by implanting a lab-made rhino embryo into a surrogate mother was reported by scientists around a week ago.

  • The worldwide scientific group BioRescue is optimistic that the experiment’s success may be repeated with thirty northern white embryos kept in liquid nitrogen. Using sperm from deceased male rhinos of the subspecies and the eggs of female northern white rhinos, the scientists resorted to in-vitro fertilization to create babies that would be given to surrogate mothers who would be southern white rhinos.

Issue explained:

In 2009, four northern white rhinos were brought from a zoo in the Czech Republic to a conservancy in Kenya in the hope that they might breed in their natural environment. The two males — Suni and Sudan — have died since, and the two females — Najin and her daughter Fatu — turned out to be incapable of reproduction for pathological reasons. This meant surrogacy was the only option to produce a northern white calf through IVF. Preparing a southern white female, the natural choice for a surrogate mother, is an elaborate process.

  • The first step is to isolate her and put a protocol in place to guard against bacterial infections. The real challenge, though, is to spot when the animal is in oestrus — the fertile window for implanting the embryo.

  • This requires the services of a ‘teaser’ — a scrubbed and sterilised rhino bull to check when the designated surrogate mother gets interested.

  • Mating also triggers an array of hormonal reactions that primes the female for the embryo implant,

Issue of genetic viability:

  • Since the embryos are all from eggs harvested from two females and sperm taken from a few deceased zoo males, even multiple successes with IVF and surrogacy cannot build a gene pool large enough for a viable northern white population

  • One solution is to broaden the breeding pool by creating sperm and eggs from stem cells extracted from preserved tissue samples stored in zoos.

  • Another optimistic argument is based on the natural resilience witnessed in the wild. Rampant hunting had resulted in the southern white rhino population crashing drastically in the 19th century when their numbers had possibly dropped to as low as 20.

  • However, due to armed protection and multilateral conservation efforts, the subspecies has made a significant recovery since then, and now number more than 17,000.

  • Crossbreeding the northern and southern subspecies is not a solution since this will result in the loss of certain unique attributes, such as hairier ears and feet, that make the northern white better adapted for swampy habitats.

 White rhinos:

Because of their square upper lip, white rhinos are frequently referred to as square-lipped rhinoceroses. Their name, which alludes to the animal’s muzzle, is derived from the Afrikaans word “weit”; which meaning wide. The skin tones of black and white rhinos are identical.

There are two subspecies of white rhino:

  • Southern white rhinos: Ceratotherium simum simum

  • Northern white rhinos: Ceratotherium simum cottoni (only two animals remaining)

  • Of the five rhino species, white rhinos are the only grazers and eat nearly solely short grasses.

  • They are the second largest land mammal after elephants.

  • They have two horns on the end of their nose. Typically, the front horn is substantially bigger than the interior horn.


  • The Northern white rhino is Critically Endangered, with only two animals remaining; they are found in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This is despite the fact that the Southern white rhino is one of the more common kinds.

  • The majority of Southern White Rhinos can be found in South Africa; smaller translocated populations can also be found in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Kenya.

Habitat: Long and short grass Savannahs.

IUCN Status: 

  • Northern White Rhino: Critically Endangered

  • Southern White Rhino: Near Threatened

Four other species:

1. The largest species of rhino in Asia is the One Horned Rhino, sometimes known as the “Indian rhino”;

2. Native to eastern and southern Africa, the black rhino

3. Javan rhinos are also referred to as lesser one-horned rhinos or Sunda rhinos.

4. The Sumatran rhino Critically Endangered rhinoceros’; species

In vitro Fertilization:

One of the more popular forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART) is in vitro fertilization (IVF).

  • The term in vitro; is derived from the Latin in glass; meaning that research is conducted in test tubes as opposed to on living beings.

  • In-vivo; which is the inverse of & quot;In-vitro," is derived from the Latin phrase “within the living”; The term “in vivo”; describes experiments carried out on living things.

  • In vitro; refers to outside of the body. The process of fertilization is the sperm adhering to and entering the egg.

  • Mature eggs are removed (retrieved) from the ovaries and fertilized in a lab by sperm during in vitro fertilization (IVF). Next, an embryo (fertilized egg) or embryos (fertilized eggs) are placed inside a uterus.

 Conservation Efforts:

  • India, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, and Malaysia have all signed the New Delhi Declaration on Asian Rhinos in support of the species’; preservation and protection.

  • All Rhinos’; DNA Profiles: The project aims to reduce rhino poaching and collect evidence related to wildlife crimes.

  • The National Strategy for Rhino Conservation: To protect the greater one-horned rhinoceros, it was started in 2019.

  • 2020’s Indian Rhino Vision: By 2020, the goal was to have at least 3,000 larger one-horned rhinos in the wild, distributed throughout seven protected regions in the Indian state of Assam.

Assam Government’s Efforts to Protect Indian Rhino:

  • A Special Rhino Protection Force has been established by the Assamese government to monitor rhino poaching and associated activities at Kaziranga National Park (KNP).

  • The Assam government set about 2,500 rhino horns on fire in front of the public to dispel misunderstandings regarding them. This made it very evident to smugglers and poachers that such goods are worthless.

  • Creating new habitats for rhinos and tying them in with already-existing protected areas. This will contribute to the rise in rhino population.

  • Local people are being included as stakeholders in the conservation of rhinos. They will serve as the forest department’s eyes and ears.

  • To stop the illegal traffic in rhino horns, laws pertaining to the trade in wildlife have been reinforced.

Advait IAS