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Northern White Rhinos: Scientists Create Two Embryos to Save the Animal

The two last northern white rhinos left around the world – Fatu and Najin – are both female and live at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The last male, Sudan, died last year, causing fear that the subspecies is on the verge of extinction, especially because the two women cannot have a pregnancy.

In a new glimpse of hope, researchers announced Wednesday that they successfully fertilized in vitro embryos collected from the two remaining female north white rhinos.

Embryos were created with eggs extracted from Fatu and Najin by international scientists last month and frozen sperm from dead men. Two embryos were viable and are now stored in liquid nitrogen, waiting to be transferred to a surrogate mother in the near future, says Ol Pejeta Conservancy in a statement.

The embryos are just part of a long journey to stop the northern white rhino's rapid descent into extinction.

Najin and Fatu cannot carry a pregnancy themselves, so the embryos are likely to be transferred to a female white rhino that would act as a surrogate.

"Five years ago, it seemed that production for a northern white rhino embryo was (one) almost unattainable goal ̵
1; and today we have them," said Jan Stejskal of Dvůr Králové Zoo, where Najin and Fatu were born.
  Najin (left) and Fatu are the last two northern white rhinos on the planet.

The process is years in the making

Ol Pejeta Conservancy acquired the northern white rhinos – two men and two women – 2009 from a zoo in the Czech Republic . Both male northern white rhinos died, leaving the fate species of fate on female rhinos.

Sudan died of natural causes in March last year and another male died in 2014. Sperm from both men were cryogenically frozen with the hope that the technology would progress enough to use it in reproduction.

Years later it happened. The harvested eggs were lifted from Kenya to Italy, where researchers at the Avantea laboratory fertilized the eggs in vitro with the sperm from the deceased men.

A race against time

Rhinos are targeted by poachers, driven by the belief in Asia that their horns cure various plagues. Experts say the rhino horn becomes more lucrative than drugs.

With only two remaining worldwide, there is a race against time to try and maintain the Northern White Rhino.

The Western Black Horn was declared extinct many years ago as a result of poaching. All five remaining rhino species around the world are considered threatened, according to the conservation group Save the Rhino.

CNN's Christina Zdanowicz contributed to this report.

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