glove hand holding vial of frozen northern white rhino DNA

Science is King

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Animals on Ice

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s real life. It’s also the promise of hope—a safeguard against the worst. At the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research®, special freezers preserve the genetic material of 10,000 animals from 1,000 different species. This is our Frozen Zoo®, and it’s our hope for the future of conservation.

a scientist examines samples; a giant panda stares into the camera

The Future in a Freezer

The Institute for Conservation Research®, part of San Diego Zoo Global, is the largest zoo-based science and conservation center in the world. In recent years, we’ve pioneered the use of science in bringing species back from the brink of extinction. We were the first to use artificial insemination to help save giant pandas—something no one thought was possible. And while there is still a lot of work to be done, giant pandas have been downgraded from endangered to “threatened”. Now, we’re working on using our decades of scientific knowledge and research to launch a surrogate rhino mom program that will bring the northern white rhino back from the brink of extinction.

a northern white rhino grazes while a guard looks on

Rhinos in Peril

With only three animals remaining on the planet, the northern white rhino is the most endangered animal on Earth. Decades of rampant poaching have wiped out these gentle giants, and science is the only hope for bringing them back. The remaining three northern whites live under armed guard in a sanctuary in Kenya. Due to their age and certain health conditions, none of them are able to breed. But with the help of our Frozen Zoo® and our six rescued southern white rhino moms, we have a plan to bring this species back. We have cryogenically preserved the genetic material of 12 northern white rhinos, and we are working on a program that will allow us to use it in surrogate pregnancies. Since southern white rhinos are genetically very similar to their northern cousins, we’re optimistic that our white rhino moms will be successful in carrying out these surrogate pregnancies. This is the last hope for saving the northern white rhino. While some might see these measures as controversial, the fact remains: rhinos are only going extinct because of humans, and we owe it to them to bring them back.

a California condor flies free in the wild; wild California condors gather on an overlook

Hope

San Diego Zoo Global is no stranger to conservation “controversy”. In the 1982, there were just 22 California condors left on the planet. We didn’t know much about them, but we knew that we had to try to save them. Some thought we should just let these magnificent birds die out. But condors, like rhinos, were only threatened because of humans. We had to try. Today, thanks to those intrepid scientific efforts, more than 400 California condors have been born, and 200 of them fly free in the wild. We have a long road ahead of us with our white rhino surrogacy program, but we have so much hope for the future of these magnificent giants. Stay tuned.