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Experts score breakthrough for rhinos

Published on: Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tabin, (Lahad Datu): A team of German and Italian crack mammal reprodutive experts from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research Berlin scored a breakthrough success Monday in inserting male rhino Tam's sperms into two oocytes collected on May 9 from tumor ridden new female rhino Iman, in the hope of laboratory fusion will develop embryos to put into surroate mothers to bear baby rhinos to full term.

The team include Prod Dr Thomas Hidelbrandt, Cesare Galli (Italian) and ansesthesiologist Frank Goeritz .

Since Tam is known to its low sperm count, Cesare Galli used a precision 'intracelluar sperm injection' technique to shoot one single sperm into each of the oocytes while waiting for third to mature , Payne said.

"Whether those will become embryos is unknown because this is the first time the technology is tried on the Sumatran rhino and actually this coming week or so will be crucial to know if any embryo is coming out of those or not," said Datuk Dr John Payne , CEO of the Borneo Rhino Alliannce during a major national press tour to Tabin Rhino Sanctuary organised by Sime Darby Foundation which has committed a RM11.4m to fund the sanctuary's operations.

Payne said advanced reproductive technology is basically the only option left for Sabah to breed descendants from what's left of its meagre rhino stock because tumor riddened females Puntung and Iman had ruled both out for natural breeding.

"But instead of giving up, you can be sure that we are pursuing every window of opportunity to sire descendants from our native rhino stocks," Payne said.

"What happened is Hildebrandt and Galli took out sperms from Tam through electroejeculation and took out from Iman oocytes - meaning reproductuce cells in the ovary that have not yet matured into eggs and took them back to Germany last Saturday ," Payne said.

" They took prelimnary eggs back to Germany to mature in the lab and when two of them did, Galli successfully applied the intracellular sperm injection technique to fuse Tam's sperms with Iman's eggs ," Payne said.

" If an embryo or ideally several embryos develop, then they have to go into surrogate mothers to bear them to full terms," Payne said.

"Broadly, there are three options, none of which are very good, but we must try" he said.

" One option is to put an embryo into Puntung , since her tumor problem is not as bad as Iman's and hope for the best. But then shehas all the cysts, so she is not an ideal candidate," Payne said. .

"The second option is to put the embryo in one of the three fertile females in Way Kembas Rhino Sanctuary , Sumatra, Indonesia but we need a formal agreement between Indonesia and Malaysia before that will happen, because Malaysia owns its rhinos and Indonesia owns its rhinos," Payne noted. .

" But that'll be the best option because they are of the same species and they are not that far away," Payne added..

"The third option will be to use zoo rhinos but that would have to be a different species, suchas While or Black rhinos so the care will be very good, especially in a zoo that is really very dedicated in what it's doing but it'll still be a different species," he said.

" But this option is like putting a huaman baby into a monkey, so it might work or not work, some people say," Payne said.

The move into advaned repproductive technology is certain to raise the cost of this rhino project by an additional RM5 million , Payne said, besides the RM11.4m Sime Darby Foundation had committed.

Yatela Zainal Abidin, CEO of Yayasan Sime Darby said her Foundation will study the extra cost factor in tems of affordability but assured the press that Yayasan Sime Darby intends to reman a major supporter of the effort to prevent the extinction of the species.

" This is because our Chairman Tun Musa Hutam had said he would notwant tosee the Sumatran rhino go extenct under his watch," Yetela said.