While the number of rhinos poached in KwaZulu-Natal has decreased from last year, all hopes are pinned on the largest biobank for rhino genetics, currently being built to help save the endangered species.
According to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, 148 rhinos were poached in the province in 2016. In 2017 it was 202, and 88 have been poached so far this year.
As environmental agencies continue efforts to fight against rhino poachers, scientists from Hemmersbach Rhino Force have been building the largest biobank for rhino genetics – the Cryovault, mainly using frozen sperm and oocytes (cells from rhino ovaries).
“The ultimate goal is to apply frozen semen in all artificial insemination trials,” Dr Imke Lüders, a researcher at Cryovault, said.
Cryovault has two locations in SA – in Limpopo and North West.
“The biggest challenge is the correct timing; we need to know when the female is in heat (oestrus) in order to transfer the sperm.”
She said they had been collecting sperm from rhinos during dehorning procedures but also from carcasses, including those that had been poached.
“This is to ensure the genetic diversity, since we lose it with every poached animal. Natural breeding is still the best option, but in some cases, assisted reproduction may be an option to promote genetics.”
Lüders said things were looking positive on the science front to save the rhino species.
“Embryos have been produced with in vitro, for example; the biotechnology is on its way.”
As countries and conservationists observe World Rhino Day on September 22, it would be remembered that the highest number of rhinos were poached in KwaZulu-Natal.
Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo said the new technology had also contributed to making security efforts a little easier.