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Only 2 Northern White Rhinos Are Left. Unless This Works

7 eggs were fertilized Sunday, taken from the last living females
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 26, 2019 12:16 PM CDT
A monitor displays the inseminating of eggs from the last two remaining female of northern white rhinos with frozen sperm from two rhino bulls of the same species, at the Avantea laboratory in Cremona,...   (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
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(Newser) – Silvia Colleoni's hand holding a syringe was trembling as she injected liquid into a micro pipette to facilitate the aspiration of sperm from one of the last then-living male northern white rhinos on Earth. Her nervousness in the Avantea laboratory in northern Italy on Sunday was understandable. Whether the artificial fertilization of eggs taken from the last two living females succeeds could determine whether the species, decimated by decades of poaching, will survive, the AP reports. "It does create a little emotion," Colleoni said, reflecting in a phone interview the day after the fertilization procedures that could result in as many as seven embryos. "After it was over, I was calm, but it's a manual task, any error, any slipping, if it falls, will result in irreparable damage."

The AP was granted exclusive access to the laboratory to film the procedure being carried out on Sunday. Eggs that were removed last week in Kenya from the last two female northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, were fertilized in the lab with frozen sperm from two now-dead males. It will be about 10 days before it is known whether the eggs have become embryos, the Italian assisted-breeding company said Monday. Wildlife experts and veterinarians are hoping that the species can reproduce via a surrogate mother rhino, since neither Najin nor Fatu can carry a pregnancy. "We expect some of them will develop into an embryo," Cesare Galli, a founder of Avantea and an expert in animal cloning, said after the procedures were carried out. The ultimate goal is to create a herd of at least five animals that could be returned to their natural habit in Africa. That could take decades.

(Read more endangered species stories.)

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