Black rhino IVF|shearluck||06/20/08 at 15:07:12|shearluck|xx|0||[quote]IVF gives black rhinos chance to avoid extinction The world's first artificial rhinoceros embryo A rare adult Black Rhinoceros walks about its enclosure at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Zoo carries out first artificial fertilisation of rhino egg
Lindy Kerin
650 words
7 June 2008
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News
(c) 2008 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Vets at the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo in central western New South Wales have succeeded in carrying out the world's first artificial fertilisation of a rhinoceros egg.
Reproductive experts first collected eggs from a black rhino called Rocket last year, after intensive hormone therapy.
There were several failed attempts at fertilisation, but today, the team of researchers who have been working on the project for the past four years are celebrating their success.
Zoo biologist Tamara Keeley explained the process to ABC Radio in Dubbo.
"We took a look at two of Rocket's eggs," she said.
"We fertilised these two eggs and this morning when we took a look at them, one of them is actually a four cell embryo.
"It's exactly what we were hoping for. It fertilised, it's developing, it's officially a rhino embryo."
This is believed to be the first time a rhinoceros egg has been artificially fertilised.
It is being seen as a massive breakthrough in overcoming fertility problems for critically endangered animals.
"This is a huge step in developing this technology for the rhino, so of course we'll want to repeat it at some stage," said Ms Keeley.
"This embryo, we're hoping, will continue to develop. If it develops enough we'll actually freeze it and keep it frozen until we've developed the technology that we need to transfer it back into a rhino and possibly produce a rhino calf.
"We're definitely starting to talk about 'OK, what do we need to do next?'
"It will involve developing embryo transfer techniques, as well as determining whether or not we want to try to synchronise the embryo transfer with a rhino in natural oestrus or if we want to try to induce an oestrus to time.
"Of course a natural oestrus would probably work better."
Survival hopes
Staff at the zoo say the breakthrough could help stop the critically endangered rhino from becoming extinct.
The Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is part of the International Rhino Foundation.
It set up a special program to help save the critically endangered species four years ago.
Dr Rebecca Spindler is the manager of research and conservation programs at the Taronga Conservation Society.
"Once we get to that point and we've actually cracked cryo-preservation and thawing with viable embryos and we can transfer them, we can potentially move genes all over the world," she said.
"We could collect eggs from wild females, zoo-based animals and transfer them into the wild across countries, across borders. There would be no holding us back once we had this technique ready to go."
"That just makes genetic management of the population both in zoos and in the wild that much easier."
Dr Spindler says it is likely that the fertilised egg will be transplanted back into the same rhino, Rocket.
"It shouldn't theoretically make any difference at all," she said.
"We could transfer the embryo back into Rocket or anyone of the other females that we have here, after priming.
"It's entirely likely, but I couldn't give you a potential percentage or anything."
She says there is a lot of research that needs to be done on how to stimulate a recipient female.
"We basically have to trick a female rhino's body into thinking that she's pregnant, so when we pop the embryo in there and it turns up and tells her body that she's pregnant she's not surprised by it," she said.
"We've got a long way to go before we get to that point. It will be a matter of years."