Eggs from the last two northern white rhinos on Earth have been successfully harvested in an effort to save the species from extinction, scientists in Kenya say.
The operation, performed on August 22, means that “producing a white rhino embryo in vitro is a tangible reality for the first time,” said Cesare Galli, one of a team of experts involved.
The never-before attempted procedure was carried out by an international consortium of scientists, conservationists and veterinarians who managed to harvest 10 oocytes (immature egg cells) at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya.
The last male northern white rhinos, Suni and Sudan, died in 2014 and 2018 respectively, but their sperm was cryo-preserved in the hope that assisted reproduction techniques could be used to rescue the species.
Although both females, Najin and Fatu, are able to provide the viable eggs, neither of them is able to carry a pregnancy for various health reasons, the scientists explained.
“The future of the northern white rhino now rests solely on pioneering artificial reproduction techniques,” they said.
The eggs will be artificially inseminated with the frozen semen and in the near future the embryo will be transferred to a southern white rhino surrogate mother.
The procedure has been the result of years of research and fundraising after attempts at breeding the pachyderms naturally proved unsuccessful.