Last year marked a tragedy for the world’s rhino populations as Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino Iman died after years of failed breeding attempts, bringing the endangered species one step closer to extinction. But not all hope is lost as scientists are now trying to use tissues and cells from Iman and other dead rhinos to bring the population back.
The ambitious endeavor, undertaken by a team of scientists at the International Islamic University Malaysia, focuses on stem cell technology and in-vitro fertilization. The process involves using cells from the dead rhinos to produce sperm and eggs that will yield test-tube babies to be implanted into a living animal or a closely related species.
Lead scientist Muhammad Lokman Md Isa, a molecular biologist at the university, said he is “very confident” that the experimental method could work. “If everything is functioning, works well and everybody supports us, it’s not impossible,” he said.
The smallest among the world’s rhinos, the Sumatran species was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. Once it had roamed across Asia, but hunting and forest clearance reduced its numbers to just 80 in neighboring Indonesia. If all goes well, the project will mark a breakthrough in the world of conservation, potentially saving other species from the brink of extinction.