Northern white rhino: can we reverse extinction?

Critically endangered rhinos may be saved by Jurassic Park technology

Richard Vigne of Ol Pejeta conservancy, Kenya, speaks out about the future of critically endangered northern white rhinos. In an interview with World of Animals, he said the species was “reaching the point of no return.”

“People give up the idea of trying to conserve rhinos because it just becomes too dangerous and too expensive” he continued.

But one radical solution has been posed to help save the species.

Reversing extinction

According to Vigne, preserving one animal’s DNA could mean that the species will live on, even after it dies.

“We’ll end up preserving DNA from northern white rhinos…It’s very similar to Jurassic Park, the process is called de-extinction.”

“There are quite a few groups trying to do it now with passenger pigeons and various other extinct species, the difference is they’re working with old DNA that they have collected from museum specimens and it’s not very good quality, so it’s much more difficult.”

This technology has been under development for the last two decades and teams across the globe are attempting to revive long-lost passenger pigeons and woolly mammoths. The extinct Pyrenean ibex was briefly resurrected by a team of scientists in 2003, unfortunately the cloned animal didn’t survive, but their work is ongoing. In the case of species that are still alive, the process may be smoother.

“The advantage we have is we still have some live animals, so we can look toward de-extinction at some stage in the future.”

Zoologist Dr Stanley Temple specialises in endangered species recovery. In an interview he said “De-extinction is essentially a game-changer for the conservation biology movement. It changes one of our principal arguments, that extinction is forever.”

“There is much to be gained for endangered species recovery from de-extinction technologies, especially the very rare species that have lost their genetic diversity.”

Vigne spoke of the difficulty of de-extinction, as the technology is still in its infancy.

“It’s not just a case of just getting a bunch of vets out here, we’ve got to develop the process.”

This comes as news spreads that the last male northern white rhino has been placed under 24-hour armed guard.


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