Estrus synchronization and artificial insemination in white rhinos

Wild white rhino populations are being decimated by poaching with no relief in sight, thus their conspecifics in human care are critical for the survival of the species.  Unfortunately, only a handful of institutions across the United States produce white rhino calves regularly.  The reasons for this reproductive difficulty are not completely clear, and there are probably multiple contributing factors.  While scientists learn more about what causes reproductive failure, assisted reproductive technologies can be used to improve reproductive success in the meantime.  The goal of this project is to implement estrus synchronization and artificial insemination (AI) techniques to achieve pregnancy.  We will be using the estrus synchronization protocol developed by Dr. Monica Stoops of Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife to stimulate follicular development, estrus, and ovulation.  In some cases, natural breeding will follow, whereas at other facilities semen will be collected from a genetically-compatible male and used to artificially inseminate the receptive female.  This project will enable females that have not yet been successfully bred to have an opportunity for pregnancy, which is critically important to prevent or slow the development of uterine pathology.  This also ensures population-wide health by maintaining genetic diversity in subsequent generations.    Participating facilities include North Carolina Zoo, Birmingham Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, and White Oak.