Months after the death of Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, scientists said on Wednesday they have grown embryos containing DNA of his kind, hoping to save the subspecies from extinction. With only two northern white rhino (NWR) known to be alive today – both infertile females – the team hopes their breakthrough technique will lead to the re-establishment of a viable NWR breeding population.
The team’s work, using a recently-patented, 2m egg extraction device, resulted in the first-ever test tube-produced rhino embryos. Now frozen, these “have a very high chance to establish a pregnancy once implanted into a surrogate mother,” The hybrid embryos were created with frozen sperm from dead NWR males and the eggs of southern white rhino (SWR) females, of which there are thousands left on Earth. The eggs were harvested from rhinos in European zoos. The team now hopes to use the technique to collect eggs from the last two northern white rhinos – Najin and Fatu, the daughter and granddaughter of Sudan. They live in a Kenyan national park.
By fertilising these with northern white rhino sperm and implanting the resulting embryos in surrogate southern white rhino females, the team intends to create a new, fledgling NWR population.