New hope for endangered species Featured

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40 years ago, the birth of the first human test-tube baby heralded a new hope for couples who wanted children but who had fertility problems. Today, the same technology is offering a possible solution to the extinction of animals.

Pumelelo and his surrogate mother 300x254Once again, South Africans have furthered science with the birth of the first Cape buffalo brought into the world by in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Named Pumelelo, the buffalo bull calf was born on June 28 from an egg donated by a female, sperm from a male, and a surrogate carrying the embryo.

In itself, this is not a massive leap forward in the field, but it opens a new avenue to save endangered species. The researchers are now turning their attention to the northern white rhino, of which only three are left on the planet.

“This success is of major importance for the prospective breeding of endangered species, and that is the reason why we are undertaking this work,” says Morne de la Rey, a veterinarian and the managing director of Embryo Plus, the company responsible for the birth of Pumelelo. Frans Stapelberg, the owner of the farm where Pumelelo was born, adds that the object of the initiative was “certainly not to reproduce buffalo of superior genetics ... the goal is the conservation of species”.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are around 900 000 Cape buffalo, also called African buffalo, on the continent, and only 18 000 to 20 000 southern white rhinos. These species are on the verge of extinction, but the IVF intervention might well save them.

The San Diego Zoo is partnering with Embryo Plus to conduct the procedure with the three remaining white rhinos, who live on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

This news came ahead of the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) taking place in Johannesburg. This is one of the world’s most important conservation events, informing the international treaty that regulates the wildlife trade.

This year’s conference will be looking at around 500 species of plants and animals, with more than 3000 people attending the event. One of the items on the agenda is legalising trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory.

Opening the event, President Jacob Zuma told delegates that there’s a visible reduction in the number of rhino poached in South Africa this past year, labelling the country one of the top conservation countries on the planet. With the IVF initiative on the horizon, that may well bring us to number one on that list.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.