IVF attempt for Sumatran rhino fails

The threat of extinction of the Sumatran rhino is very real, with just over 100 left in Indonesia. ― Picture courtesy of Borneo Rhino Alliance
The threat of extinction of the Sumatran rhino is very real, with just over 100 left in Indonesia. ― Picture courtesy of Borneo Rhino Alliance

KOTA KINABALU, Oct 15 — The survival of Sabah’s critically endangered Sumatran rhino was once again dashed after an attempt at in-vitro fertilisation failed.

Sources told Malay Mail that eggs cells from Sabah’s last female rhino Iman, was injected with thawed sperm from Sabah’s deceased last male Rhino known as Tam — but had degenerated within days.

Although the process, undertaken by the Wildlife Department and in-vitro experts went smoothly, the quality of Iman’s egg and Tam’s sperm – taken last May before Tam’s death had failed to form an embryo.

“It failed to divide and degenerated over three days of the incubation period,” sources said, adding that the failure was not completely unexpected as previous attempts with Tam’s eggs had shown that the rhino was not healthy enough, while Iman had a tumor in her uterus.

Authorities said that despite the failure, they would continue to work with Indonesian authorities and may consider using sperm from a male captive rhino under the shared goal of conserving the Sumatran rhino.

The threat of extinction of the species is very real, with just over 100 left in Indonesia.

On September 30, scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Germany successfully harvested one egg cell from Iman which was then prepared by IVF expert from Bogor Agriculture University prof Arief Boediono.

The procedure was done at Reproductive Innovation Center for Wildlife and Livestock at the Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) in Sandakan.

Previously, Sabah had been trying for years to work with Indonesia on a rhino breeding programme, but till now, efforts had not materialised.

Although conservationists now believe it is too late for the survival of the species in Sabah, the new cooperation has at least opened up a window for future collaborations.

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