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Rhino on the Rocks

Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin successfully inseminated a rhino with formerly frozen sperm. This world-first artificial insemination of a white rhino with frozen rhino sperm took place in Budapest Zoo.

The test-tube father called Simba is 38 years old and lives in the Zoo of Colchester, UK. The pregnant female is called Lulu. Her baby is due in November 2008. It will be her second baby. The first one, Layla, was also conceived by artificial insemination. At that time, however, the scientists had used fresh sperm from a male rhino that lives with Lulu in Budapest.

The fact that the scientists were able to use frozen sperm has far-ranging implications for the conservation of rhinos. „Now we can take sperm from free living rhinos and freeze it“, says Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt, scientist at IZW. „Then we will be able to use it in zoos all over the world.“ The sperm Hildebrandt and his colleagues had used was stored for three years in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees Celsius. It was taken from Simba, a then 35 years old male rhino, in Colchester, UK. Tests had shown that Simba's sperm cells were highly vital although he was already quite old at that time. The sperm was frozen with a newly developed deep-freezing technology which is especially suitable for wildlife sperm.

In June, the IZW scientists thawed the sperm and implanted the re-vitalised cells deeply into the uterus of Lulu in Budapest. The specialists from Berlin used a non-surgical insemination procedure developed at the IZW. This international conservation project was carried out in close co-operation with the Veterinary University of Vienna. An analysis of the hormonal status by the Vienna specialists showed signs of a pregnancy. Then Dr. Robert Hermes from IZW carried out a sonography and confirmed that Lulu is four months pregnant. He says: „This result is enormously important for the conservation of rhinos.“ Particularly the Northern White Rhino could benefit as there are only three, possibly four individuals left in the wild and eight individuals in zoos worldwide. „We can take sperm from free-ranging animals and deep-freeze the cells. Thus, we would be able to use sperm from rhinos even after they were killed by poachers for instance.“

For the time being, all scientists involved hope that Lulu will stay healthy. Although her baby is only seven inches (16 centimeters) long and will not be due for more than a year, there are suggestions for the name of the baby; amongst the favorite names are „Ice“, „Frozen“ or „Cool“.

Josef Zens | alfa
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