An international consortium of scientists and conservationists says they have succeeded in creating two embryos of the near-extinct northern white rhino.
It is a milestone in assisted reproduction that may be a pivotal turning point in the fate of the species.
The embryos were created in-vitro, using eggs collected from the two remaining females and frozen sperm from dead males, they said at a news conference in the Italian northern city of Cremona on Wednesday.
The embryos are now stored in liquid nitrogen to be transferred into a surrogate mother in the near future.
Professor Cesare Galli and his team at the Avantea laboratories matured and fertilised eggs collected on August 22 from Najin and Fatu, the last two females in the world.
They live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, with sperm previously collected from males Suni and Saut.
“We brought 10 oocytes back from Kenya, five from each female. After incubation, seven matured and were suitable for fertilisation,” Prof Galli said.
After 10 days of incubation, two of Fatu’s eggs developed into viable embryos that were cryopreserved for future transfer, the scientists said.
The last living male northern white rhino was a 45-year-year-old named Sudan, who gained fame in 2017 with his listing as The Most Eligible Bachelor In The World on the Tinder dating app, in a fundraising effort.
Sudan was put down after age-related complications.
Decades of poaching decimated the northern white rhino’s numbers.
Sudan was the last of his kind to be born in the wild, in the country he was named after.
Other rhinos, the southern white rhino and the black rhino, are also prey for poachers, who kill them for their horns to supply illegal markets in parts of Asia.
The efforts to save the northern white rhino species have been led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany; Avantea; the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic; the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya; and the Kenya Wildlife Service.