The chances of bringing the northern white rhino back from the brink of extinction got a boost after scientists created two embryos, 18 months after the death in Kenya of the species’ last male.
Scientists last month collected 10 immature eggs from Najin and Fatu, the world’s only survivors of the square-lipped subspecies. The females were born in Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic and transferred to a Kenyan conservancy in 2009 together with two other males who later died.
“We brought ten oocytes back from Kenya, five from each female. After incubation seven matured and were suitable for fertilization,” Cesare Galli, a professor based at the Avantea Laboratories in Cremona, Italy said in an emailed statement. Sperm from two deceased males, Suni and Saut, were injected into the eggs, of which two developed into viable embryos.
“Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was almost unachievable goal- and today we have them,” said Jan Stejskal, director of Communication and International Projects at Dvur Kralove.
The embryos, all from Fatu’s eggs, will be transferred to a surrogate mother, according to the statement. Najin’s eggs didn’t make it.
The global rhino population has been decimated by poaching, with China and Vietnam among nations fueling demand for their horns due to the belief that they cure diseases including cancer and even ease a hangover.
“Global human behavior still needs to radically change if the lessons of the northern white rhinos are to be learned,” said Richard Vigne, managing director of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where the two rhinos are sheltered.