There's some hope for the future of the northern white rhino as eggs extracted from the last two remaining females on the planet are fertilised.
The species, which is on the verge of extinction, may have been saved thanks to a history-making procedure in Kenya last week in which ten eggs were taken from females rhino Najin, 30, and her daughter Fatu, 19.
Of those ten eggs, seven matured and were then artificially inseminated with frozen sperm from two rhino bulls of the same species, Suni and Saut, by researchers at the Avantea laboratory in Cremona, Italy on Sunday, 25th August.
If the operation creates embryo's, these will then be frozen and transferred to a surrogate southern white rhino in place of Najin and Fatu, who are both unable to carry out pregnancies.
"We were surprised by the high rate of maturation achieved as we do not get such high rate with southern white rhino females in European zoos," said Cesare Galli, who led the team behind the procedure at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
"The semen of Saut was very difficult to work with and to find three live sperms needed for the eggs of Najin we had to thaw two batches of semen. Now the injected oocytes (cells) are incubated and we need to wait to see if any viable embryo develop to the stage where it can be cryo-preserved for later transfer."
The results of the procedure will be announced on 10th September, but if successful it may save the species.
The last living male northern white rhino, 65-year-old Sudan, died in March 2018 due to age-related complications. His death left the species "functionally extinct".
A study by Conservation Action found that many iconic African animal species, especially those favoured by trophy hunters, are in sharp decline due to widespread poaching. This includes elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, cheetahs and lions.
In the most desperate position is the critically-endangered rhino. While northern white rhinos went extinct in the wild as of November 2015 and there are just Najin and Fatu remain in captivity, it's thought there are now just over 5,000 black rhinos and 20,000 white rhinos existing in the wild.
At the turn of the 20th century there were roughly 10 million elephants roaming Africa. Today, this figure stands at 430,000, while there are only thought to be 20,000 free-ranging lions in the wild and leopards have numbers of 700,000.
At least last week's procedure brings some hope for the northern white rhino. Crossing all fingers!
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