Scientists announced Wednesday they have succeeded in creating two embryos of the near-extinct northern white rhino as part of an international effort to save the species, which is down to just two animals worldwide, both of them female. The embryos, created in the lab with eggs taken from the females and frozen sperm from dead males, are now stored in liquid nitrogen. They'll be transferred into a surrogate mother—a southern white rhino—in the near future, the AP reports. "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.
An international consortium of scientists and conservationists has been planning and developing the procedure for years. The ultimate goal is to create a herd of at least five animals that could be returned to their natural habitat in Africa. A team at Avantea Laboratories in Cremona, Italy, extracted five immature egg cells from each of the remaining females, Najin and Fatu. After being incubated, seven of those cells matured and were suitable for fertilization. Two of the fertilized eggs developed into viable embryos. "Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was an almost unachievable goal—and today we have them," says Jan Stejskal, director of communication at the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Najin and Fatu were born.
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