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Veterinarians have successfully harvested eggs from the last two surviving northern white rhinos, taking them one step closer to bringing the species back from the brink of extinction, scientists said in Kenya on Friday.
Science is the only hope for the northern white rhino after the death last year of the last male, named Sudan, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya where the groundbreaking procedure was carried out Thursday.
Females - Najin - Daughter - Fatu - Survivors
Two females, Najin, 30, and daughter Fatu, 19, are the only survivors of the subspecies of white rhino, and live under 24-hour armed guard at Ol Pejeta.
However neither is able to carry a calf. Fatu has degenerative lesions in her uterus and Najin has weak hind legs which could cause complications if she fell pregnant.
Consortium - Scientists - Conservationists - Project - Euros
But an international consortium of scientists and conservationists has been working on a project costing several million euros to save the northern white rhino using pioneering artificial reproduction techniques that have taken years of research and development.
"We were able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes—five from Najin and five from Fatu—showing that both females can still provide eggs and thus help to save these magnificent creatures," said Professor Thomas Hildebrandt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo & Wildlife Research (IZW) in Germany who helped carry out the procedure.
Technique - Equipment - Scratch
"Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch," he said.
The eggs—which cannot be frozen—were immediately flown to a laboratory in Italy to be fertilised with cryogenically frozen sperm, of which there are samples from four deceased males.
Embryos - Surrogate - Mother - Rhino - Subspecies
The resulting embryos will then be frozen until they can be transferred into a surrogate mother from the southern white rhino subspecies. The first such rhino embryos using in-vitro techniques were created last year.
The team working on the project also includes Italian biotech laboratory Avantea, Czech zoo Dvur Kralove...
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