Nairobi, 12 September 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Scientists have created two northern white rhino embryos as part of efforts to save the nearly extinct species, an international scientific consortium said on Wednesday.
“Today we achieved an important milestone on a rocky road which allows us to plan the future steps in the rescue programme of the northern white rhino,” Thomas Hildebrandt of Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research said in a statement.
Eggs had been harvested from the last two remaining northern white rhinos – two females living in Kenya, Najin and Fatu – in August and artificially inseminated in a laboratory in Cremona, Italy, with sperm from two deceased northern white rhino bulls.
“After 10 days of incubation, two of Fatu’s eggs developed into viable embryos that were cryopreserved for future transfer. Najin’s eggs did not make it to a viable embryo,” said Cesare Galli of the Avantea Laboratories in Cremona.
The frozen embryos are due to eventually be transferred to southern white rhino surrogates because neither Najin nor Fatu are able to carry a pregnancy due to various health reasons.
“We have a very long way to go,” said Richard Vigne, managing director of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, where Najin and Fatu live.
The procedure has been the result of years of research and fundraising after attempts at breeding the pachyderms naturally proved unsuccessful.
The last male northern white rhino died in 2018, but sperm from him and others was cryopreserved in the hope that assisted reproduction techniques could be used to rescue the species.