Although techniques in semen collection are well established, they are not widely practised in rhino, due to logistics, risk management and lack technical skills base.
The IRC is partnering with some of the worlds leading experts, Dr Monica Stoops from the Cincinatti Zoo and Chris DeChant from Innovative Zoological Solutions, in this project. As part of this collaboration, local South African vets will be trained to collect semen from rhino, giving us greater flexibilty and knowledge base to be able to collect from a broader platform.
Detail of collection:
1. Collect and store gametes cryogenically, from live white and black rhino.
(i) Semen samples to be collected via electro-ejaculation from male rhinos that are to be sedated either for veterinary reasons, translocation or for the purpose of microchipping for integrated security programs. Skin samples of the donor animal will also be taken for DNA profiling and analysis.
(ii) Females that are known to need forthcoming sedation, either for veterinary reasons, translocation or for the purpose of microchipping for integrated security programs, will be darted timeously with specific hormones prior to sedation, in order to stimulate super-ovulation. Upon subsequent sedation, the females will then be flushed using transrectal ultrasound-guided oocyte recovery (Hermes et al, 2009). Gametes will then be stored cryogenically. Skin samples of the donor animal will also be taken for DNA profiling and analysis.
(iii) Potential collection of gametes from dead poached animals will also be attempted. Samples of epididymis, testes, ovaries will be collected from any corpses that are still fresh and have not started to decompose.
2. Broaden genetic diversity within wild and captive white and black rhino populations globally, by using genetically disparate stored gametes for assisted reproduction and / or embryo transfer into healthy adult rhino.
(i) DNA profiles of recipient female rhino and gametes or embryos introduced, will be used to ensure disparate genetics are inter bred.
(ii) Work with SANParks, DEA, and the Private Rhino Owners Association in identifying suitable recipient females for assisted reproduction programs.
(iii) Work in collaboration with zoos and captive breeding programs globally (Cincinatti zoo) in assisted reproduction programs in captivity.
This project cannot be viewed in isolation and necessitates both national and international collaboration at the highest levels to be successful. Our generation cannot sit and watch the potential extinction of the 2nd largest land mammal on the planet, we must act decisively now.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
If you own rhino, and wish to have the semen of your rhino tapped and frozen, then contact us and we will arrange. Semen straws remain the property of the donor owner or organistaion, with a proportion being donated to the IRC for the frozen gene pool bank and for research purposes.