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World's first AI birth achieved using frozen rhino sperm

Horny Colchester perissodactyl in Budapest triumph

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An alliance of Eastern-European boffins has achieved what they describe as a "landmark technique for AI". The I in this case, however, stands not for Intelligence but Insemination, and the breakthrough is the the world's first live birth achieved using frozen rhinoceros semen.

Now that's what we call a (possibly literally) groundbreaking scientific development. It appears that top rhino-sperm institutes in Berlin, Hungary and Vienna came together (cough) to impregnate "a 30 year old female rhinoceros" in Budapest Zoo. Apparently the scientists had to make two attempts to get the job done.

The rhino-bothering boffins made use of "semen collected from a 35-36 year-old Southern white rhinoceros" resident in the UK's Colchester Zoo some years previously, which had been frozen and stored before being thawed out for the successful Budapest caper.

"Techniques for AI in rhinoceros have improved in recent years," it says here, "and the first live birth by AI occurred in 2007."

But:

That instance used fresh semen from a male rhinoceros in the same zoo, limiting the widespread use of the technique. By demonstrating that frozen semen could be thawed and used to successfully inseminate a female at a remote location, the researchers have opened a new avenue ...

Semen samples can be collected and preserved from both wild and captive populations to maintain a genome resource bank and to boost reproduction in these megaherbivores.

There was no word on just who would be doing the collection of semen from wild rhinos, but the scholarly article detailing the success was written by Dr Robert Hermes and his colleagues Messrs Göritz, Saragusty, Sós, Molnar, Reid, Schwarzenberger, and Hildebrandt of the various institutions involved.

The brainboxes believe that the technique will help to prevent many rhino species becoming extinct. They say there are less than 20,000 of the hefty, irascible horn-conked creatures left worldwide, and some kinds of rhino have as few as four living members left in the wild.

The full article can be found in Theriogenology: An International Journal of Animal Reproduction. ®

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