An important week-long international visit in February to the Faculty’s In Vitro Fertility Laboratory (IVF) has paved the way for more extensive collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global as part of the International Rhino Reproduction Collaborative (IRRC). An IRRC-MOU, primarily drafted by the University of Pretoria and San Diego Global was officially signed in early 2019.
The focus of the visit by the San Diego Zoo team and other members of the IRRC was rhino semen collection and cryopreservation, oocyte pick-up, and streamlining of IVF media preparation and Intracellular Sperm Injection techniques.
According to Mr Mario Smuts from the Faculty’s Department of Production Animal Studies, who represented the Faculty during this visit, the aim of the IRRC is to investigate methods in optimising rhino gamete retrieval and survival and to improve the outcomes from maturation and intracellular sperm injection (ICSI) techniques towards artificial reproduction. This will indeed provide further impetus to rhino conservation efforts.
“The critical first step will be to investigate methods for optimising gamete retrieval and survival during their transfer to the laboratory to improve the outcomes from maturation, embryo culture or vitrification for oocyte cryopreservation and ultimately embryos from IVF or ICSI,” Mr Smuts said.
As a result of inputs from various members of the IRRC, the Faculty’s IVF Laboratory celebrated its 1st ever equine hatching blastocyst early in March 2020. This was also made possible by the installation of a state-of-the-art ICSI system (Leica microscope with Takanome Narishige manipulators) by the Faculty. The Faculty’s Section of Reproduction will soon be able to extrapolate and offer this specialised in vitro service to potential clients in the equine and wildlife fraternity.
Speaking about the initiative, the Dean of the Faculty, Prof Vinny Naidoo said that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how extensively the world is really connected. "Thus, as we move forward, we increasingly need to consider not only the local impact of our research but its international impact. The reverse also applies. While our rhino are an iconic wildlife species, the international illegal trade in wildlife or wildlife products has had a major impact on their well-being locally. As a result, preserving our rhino and other wildlife will need strong international collaboration and a coordinated global response. This initiative is one perfect example of the way forward," Prof Naidoo said