Friday, February 13, 2015
TEST-TUBE BABY COULD BE NORTHERN RHINO’S LAST HOPE
The technology have been looked into as most useful for humans. Little did anybody realize, test-tube babies could be the best tool in saving a dying animal specietoo.
Yes, there is much promise that test tube baby seems to hold in the fight to save this dwindling rhino population. Experts from three continents agree that they may have finally the solution. But though the idea seems perfect, making it happen is another thing.
Technology definitely is a game-changer. Where many people would have thought it impossible to have children, test tube babies bridge a widening gap and brought hope and untold joy to many a-families.
Animals, on the other hand, can make the most of technology. As what many pundits know, extinction never happen overnight. It is a gradual process. To be arrested, a holistic approach to the problem must be brought to the fore.
Animal caretakers at the world-famous San Diego Zoo have recently made public of the fact that Angalifu, one of two white rhinos it keeps, had died at 44, a ripe age for the animal.
Immediately the incident posed a very unique challenge for every animal activist and wildlife conservationist in the planet. You see with Angalifu’s death, there are only 5 remaining members of the species in the whole world: one female currently in California, another in the Czech Republic, plus three in Kenya, a group consisting of two females and one male. And that’s it.
An Uphill Climb
But these complications are just the beginning. It goes even more complex. You see of the five remaining, four are already in their final years of existence being in their 40’s, a good record for a specie with a lifetime average of 43. That leaves but one young female, born in 2000, to be young.
In an interview with AFP, curator of mammals for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Randy Rieches, disclosed, “"It is seriously going to be an uphill battle. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
"We're looking at a bunch of different options," he opened up. Options like in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination are being looked into. The working team admits the process is like "grasping at straws at this point in time."
A Long and Winding Road
The compounded problem is the result of the long unsuccessful struggle against poachers in Africa. Rhinos have commanded such a price that the animal has been hunted for decades, decimating their numbers in the process. Once classic example is the Northern white rhino which is barely existing because of massive poaching for their horns. Added to this are the complications of wars and ethnic conflict, the World Wildlife Foundation reports.
Put in bad decisions and you have a specie hanging on to dear life. Ten years ago, for instance, some 30 animals were living wild within the Garamba National Park, a conservation area set by the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( DRC ).
Mindful of the threat of extinction, conservationists organized to have them moved to Kenya where they can be better treated and looked after. However, the DRC government made it clear that the animals are not to be taken out of the country.
Note Rieches, an expert on rhinos for decades, “"That proved to be a very poor decision, because they weren't able to protect them because of the remoteness."
And so one by one the animals fall. Add illegal commerce to the mix and you’ve got your powder keg waiting to blow. Rieches added, “Now it has become so horrific with rhino poaching because rhino horn prices gone through the roof. They're doing it now with gunships. The rangers on the ground are so severely outmatched. It's just almost impossible. They are literally putting their lives on the line to try to stop the rhino poaching."
Fate Hanging in the Balance
Looking at the conundrum, he points out that there is a need for the 3 distinct institutions from 3 different countries to work together as one to have a flicker of hope to save the animal. Namely these are: the Czech Republic's Dvur Kralove Zoo, Kenya's OlPejeta Conservancy and of course San Diego.
They are making progress but it is in inches. Already, a Czech expert dropped the California facility a visit. So did one German expert who went to Kenya to obtain semen samples.
TheUS expert exclaimed, “"We're actually in partnership with everyone that still has animals. So everyone is trying methods on their own, but working together with samples."
So in the hope of widening the chances as much as possible, semen samples have been frozen. They are looking at two approaches: one is to fertilize the eggs in the lab or what is called as the “test tube scenario”; the other is to impregnate a close relative, a southern white rhino, a specie with far more numbers.
To give the cross-breeding a more Northern rhino flavor, female calves produced from that combination would have to be bred once again with the sperm of a northern white. If successful, the end-product would be 15/16 pure northern white.
It’s a long haul and Rieches is not expecting anything drastic. To boot, the gestation period for a healthy female rhino is 17 months.
The rhino expert concluded, “"So this is a long term project. We're in it for the long haul... it will take time before something comes to fruition, it certainly will be a couple of years."
Rieches see the struggle as his own personal fight. Working as part of the conservancy group San Diego Zoo Global for 36 years, the rhino conservationist sits also on the board of directors of the world-renowned International Rhino Foundation.
It things get ugly and the white rhino dies, it will drive a stake into his heart.
As a parting shot he says, "A large portion of my life has been rhinos... it's going to be a huge, huge thing for me if this happened on my watch, if this happened during my lifetime."