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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

Rhinos! The closest thing to a real unicorn!

Rhinoceroses are highly endangered due to poaching and illegal trade. In South Africa, we have two species, the white rhino (pictured here; “Ceratotherium simum”) and the black rhino (“Diceros bicornis”). The white rhino is the larger of the two species and weighs up to 2 500 kg! They are typically grazers, aka they eat grass and a lot of it considering how massive they are! The Northern white rhinos are sadly, nearly extinct, and so scientists are trying their best to help save them.

In September this year, scientists in Italy created two Northern white rhino embryos, with the last two known females from the subspecies. The eggs were extracted from the two females and fertilized with sperm from deceased Northern white rhino males. Unfortunately, the females in captivity are unable to carry a pregnancy to term. So, the embryos have been frozen and will hopefully be implanted into Southern white rhino females, thus giving birth to Northern subspecies offspring. This is the first time “in vitro” IVF has been successful, and it is an excellent stepping stone in terms of rhino conservation!

“So why is this important? Why do we care about subspecies?” I got this question in my honour’s presentation since my projected looked at subspecies of a mammal species. My answer was simply just that we don’t know what biodiversity we are going to lose if subspecies go extinct. A subspecies has a distinct genetic diversity to other subspecies, and they even may look different and behave differently. This is generally because of group separation dating back thousands of years, and the groups adapted uniquely to their environment.

With habitat destruction, poaching, and illegal trade, it is imperative to know what diversity is present in species so that we can try our best to protect it!

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