A Colossal Biosciences Partnership to ‘Re:wild’ 8 Endangered Species

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In a groundbreaking partnership, Colossal Biosciences is set to combine its advanced biotechnology with Re:wild’s ecological conservation expertise to develop a 10-year, targeted conservation strategy. In addition to searching for lost species and continuing Colossal’s quest to revive long-extinct species like the dodo and Tasmanian tiger, this partnership will focus on global collaborations to rejuvenate eight critically endangered species with genetic rescue and rewilding techniques. 

These species — the Asian elephant, African forest elephant, African savanna elephant, northern white rhino, Sumatran rhino, pink pigeon, Victorian grassland earless dragon, and Tasmanian devil — are all incredibly unique and ecologically valuable, making them ideal candidates for the inauguration of this decade-long project. 

“Due to the accelerated global biodiversity crisis it is important that in addition to the classical conservation approaches such as habitat protection and captive breeding programs for reintroduction … The new partnership between the de-extinction company Colossal and the conservation [nongovernmental organization] Re:wild presents a milestone in this direction,” said Thomas Hildebrandt, a member of Colossal Biosciences’ scientific advisory board and the head of the Department of Reproduction Management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany. 

Eight Colossal Species to Re:wild

Asian, African Forest, and African Savanna Elephants

Perhaps the most recognizable animals on Earth, these three elephant species are all highly threatened due to decades of ivory poaching, habitat loss, human conflict, and disease. Today, there are fewer than 500,000 elephants across all three species, with scientists concerned that existing threats could lead to extinction within our lifetime. 

Despite continuous population declines, elephants are still considered keystone species for their disproportionate impact on their ecosystem. Given their massive size and tireless grazing habits, elephants are known for creating habitats and food sources for a variety of small animals and insects. As such, their well-being is crucial to maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems throughout the world.

Since its founding in 2021, Colossal Biosciences has been dedicated to developing a variety of unique elephant conservation techniques. Colossal has already sequenced the genomes of all three elephant species and has been working on a vaccine for elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, a deadly illness that impacts young Asian elephants. The company has also recently developed the first induced pluripotent stem cells for the Asian elephant, an essential precursor for biobanking and potentially lifesaving genetic edits. 

In addition to supporting Colossal’s existing work with elephants, Re:wild will leverage its global partnerships and rewilding expertise to ensure the protection of elephants in the wild. The organization continues to collaborate closely with The Elephant Crisis Fund to work in real time to keep elephants safe from poaching.

Northern White Rhino

A subspecies of the white rhino, the northern white rhinoceros is one of the rarest animals in the world and is currently down to its last individuals, Najin and Fatu, two related females living together at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 140-square-mile wildlife conservancy located in central Kenya. 

Despite an ongoing breeding program that has spanned decades and is currently overseen by the global consortium BioRescue, advanced reproductive technologies like embryo creation and in vitro fertilization are not enough to save the subspecies, as it lacks the diversity needed to sustain a population.

To ensure that potential northern white rhino populations are genetically viable, Colossal Biosciences has teamed up with BioRescue and is working to identify lost genetic diversity from the genomic sequences of historic samples of the subspecies’ bones, skin, and preserved organs and fetuses. 

Once found, this diversity will be used to edit the cell lines of northern white rhino embryos, genetically rescuing the species and establishing a resilient, breeding future generation. Colossal and Re:wild can then work with various partners and stakeholders to restore populations of the subspecies to their natural habitat.

Sumatran Rhino

The Sumatran rhino is not only the world’s oldest and smallest rhino species, but it’s also critically endangered, with as few as 34 rhinos left living throughout 10 subpopulations in Indonesia. As a megaherbivore with a fruit-heavy diet, the Sumatran rhino is known to disperse seeds that maintain the Indonesian rainforests, making their continued survival incredibly important to local biodiversity.

Re:wild is partnered with the Sumatran Rhino Survival Alliance to support local conservation efforts, including establishing two Indonesian sanctuaries and searching and translocating wild rhinos to breeding facilities. 

In 2023, Re:wild and Colossal Biosciences hosted a meeting with stakeholders to discuss a plan for using advanced reproductive technology to rejuvenate the species. 

“We are thrilled to host the first-ever workshop on Sumatran rhino advanced reproduction technologies,” said Colossal on its Facebook page upon the announcement. “By bringing key players from across the world into one room, the goal is to share ideas and come away with tools for collaboration and execution that will expedite our collective efforts to save this species!” 

As part of their 10-year conservation plan, Colossal and Re:wild will work with Indonesian partners to implement this plan and ensure that the necessary technologies are deployed to Indonesia. 

Pink Pigeon

Known for its distinctive coloration and relation to the dodo, the pink pigeon used to brighten the skies of the island nation of Mauritius by the thousands, but today is down to roughly 500 individuals. Similar to the northern white rhino, the pink pigeon has been subjected to a litany of (relatively successful) breeding programs, but faces challenges due to dismal genetic diversity. 

While these programs have brought the species from the brink of extinction — at one dire point, there were just 10 individuals in existence — scientists have found that without genetic intervention, the species could go extinct within 100 years due to inbreeding. As the last remaining pigeon endemic to Mauritius, the pink pigeon occupies a unique ecological niche that Colossal recognizes the importance of conserving. 

In collaboration with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, Colossal Biosciences is working to genetically rescue the pink pigeon by sequencing persevered DNA samples from museums and private collections and identifying and reintroducing diversity currently missing in the species. Re:wild will support these efforts with its extensive expertise. 

Victorian Grassland Earless Dragon

Once considered gone for good, the 12-centimeter-long (about 4.7 inches) Victorian grassland earless dragon was rediscovered in 2023 after going undetected for 54 years. Today, 16 individuals now reside at the Melbourne Zoo in a captive breeding program run by Zoos Victoria.

Zoos Victoria has enlisted the help of Colossal Biosciences to sequence the genome of each individual — perhaps the most endangered reptile in the world — and map genetic relatedness to inform breeding strategies. Colossal has also provided initial funding to develop quarantine housing and care for the species. Re:wild will lend its expertise to this project in hopes of one day returning the dragon to the Victorian grasslands.

“Our partnership with Colossal has great potential to explore and apply more novel genetic techniques for a range of species in need,” Said Zoos Victoria CEO Jenny Gray in a press release. “It’s a great example of how different organizations can collaborate to address the urgent need for species preservation and ecosystem restoration.”

Tasmanian Devil

Among Australia’s best-known animals, the Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial and the rambunctious relative to the Tasmanian tiger. Facing numerous threats — including a unique parasitic cancer known as Devil facial tumor disease — the species population has declined by over 90% in the wild, with just 25,000 devils left in Tasmania today. 

As an apex predator, the Tasmanian devil is crucial to maintaining other predators like foxes and feral cats, allowing smaller mammals to perform ecosystem services like seed dispersal. Re:wild has been a longtime advocate for the Tasmanian tiger, and is partnered with Aussie Ark to rewild the species, expand its protected areas, and restore its critical habitats. 

In 2020, Re:wild, Aussie Ark, and WildArk released 11 Tasmanian devils into a wildlife sanctuary on Australia’s Barrington Tops, marking the first time in 3,000 years that the species has lived in the wild on the Australian mainland.

In addition to supporting these rewilding efforts, Colossal Biosciences will work with Aussie Ark to implement and further develop its artificial pouch technology on certain marsupial species, improving the use of advanced breeding technologies for endangered marsupials.

A Colossal Win for Conservation

One cannot work alone when it comes to safeguarding the world’s biodiversity. In a time where over 1 million species are at current risk of extinction, partnerships like the one between Colossal Biosciences and Re:wild are on the front lines of the fight to protect our species at greatest risk, and these eight species are only the beginning of a 10-year journey. 

As Beth Shapiro, Colossal’s chief science officer, puts it, “By establishing a core focus and combining the strengths of each organization, we are on track to a truly monumental conservation win.”