Scientists in Italy have successfully created two northern white rhino embryos.
The worldwide consortium of scientists and conservationists achieved the milestone in assisted reproduction, a move that has been praised as a pivotal turning point in the fate of the subspecies. Two embryos of northern white rhinos have been successfully created in an Italian laboratory using eggs harvested from two remaining subspecies from Kenya.
Even if healthy northern white rhino calfs are born from the IVF embryos, conservationists will still face an enormous challenge in the lack of genetic diversity in the population. Two of the fertilized eggs developed into viable embryos.
CREMONA, Italy (AP) - Scientists announced Wednesday they have succeeded in creating two embryos of the near-extinct northern white rhino as part of an global effort to save the species, which is down to just two animals worldwide, both of them female. Najin's eggs did not make it to a viable embryo despite the fact that one egg initiated segmentation.
Seven out of the 10 eggs (4 from Fatu and 3 from Najin) were successfully matured and artificially inseminated by the worldwide consortium of scientist.
This was the first time ever, that Scientists were able to collect oocytes (immature eggs) from both Najin and Fatu.
"Today we achieved an important milestone on a rocky road which allows us to plan the future steps in the rescue program of the northern white rhino", said Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany.
In August they underwent a highly risky procedure carried out by a team of worldwide vets, which saw them anaesthetised for nearly two hours, and their eggs extracted using techniques that have taken years of research and development.
The embryos will now be stored in liquid nitrogen to be transferred into a surrogate mother.
Now, using eggs harvested from the females and frozen sperm from deceased males, a team in Italy's Cremona have been able to create two viable embryos, according to the BioRescue worldwide consortium of scientists.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy Director Richard Vigne says the development is a major step forward in efforts to recover the northern white rhinos.
"We have a very long way to go and we must remember that for most species facing extinction, the resources that are being dedicated to saving the northern whites simply don't exist".
After racing against time for a decade, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife saying the government is greatly encouraged by the assisted reproduction technique and has committed to facilitate the pioneering process. With only two females left in the world, they are turning to a sub-species for help.
Prized for their horns, which are sold on the black market in Asia, northern white rhino numbers have been pushed to the edge of extinction by decades of poaching.
The number of individuals further declined to only two in 2018, threatening to push the Northern White Rhino to complete extinction.