Breeding programs are essential for endangered species. But how does this happen with limited animals in a captive environment? Sometimes they can be matched with a suitable mate, but for rhinos who are aggressive with mating, often natural breeding is not an option, and artificial insemination is used.
First the rhinos are “matched”. Through the SSP (Species Survival Program), captive rhinos, as well as other endangered species, across the country are kept in a main database. Through this program, rhinos are carefully paired for breeding, based on genetic diversity and zoo placements (i.e. space, demographics, etc).
Now the female is selected as a prospective mom, it’s time to figure out when the best time is to attempt insemination. The keepers bring dung samples to the lab; through the feces hormones can be analyzed. It can target whether the rhino is ready for breeding, if she has a regular cycle, and when her optimum time for ovulation is. This is done repeatedly for many months.
The male is anesthetized and the semen is collected. The sperm is analyzed under a microscope to be sure it is healthy.
The female is then anesthetized. Special 3D ultrasound system is used to monitor her reproductive system and using a probe, the semen is inserted. The procedure is complete and the rhinos are awakened.
For the next few weeks, the female’s hormone levels continue to be monitored to check for pregnancy. If successful, in 16 months there will be a baby rhino.
The process of artificial insemination with rhino is a fairly new process; it began in Hungary in 2006. Scientists and conservationists have come a long way. Sperm, and recently entire embryos, are able to be frozen and stored. Perhaps most exciting, is the production of stem cells from the Northern White Rhino. Is cloning in the near future? With only four left in the entire world, is this the next step after their inevitable extinction?