There is renewed hope that the near-extinct northern white rhino could be saved after eggs were successfully extracted from the last two remaining females.
Rhinos Najin, 30, and her daughter Fatu, 19, of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, cannot carry a pregnancy and their inability to do so meant conservationists were resigned to their kind being completely wiped out upon their deaths.
But a groundbreaking procedure carried out by wildlife experts and veterinarians has seen 10 eggs harvested from the rhinos – providing a sense of optimism for their future that has long been absent.
The eggs will be artificially inseminated with frozen sperm from a northern white rhino bull and then transferred to a southern white rhino surrogate mother, allowing the subspecies to reproduce through a surrogate.
Researchers are certainly in last chance saloon territory in their efforts to save the northern white rhino, with the final male having died last year.
The 45-year-old, named Sudan, died from “age-related complications” in March 2018 after his condition “worsened significantly” and left him unable to stand.
Dr Stephen Ngulu, the wildlife veterinarian who was in charge of Sudan, told Sky News at the time: “Until recently he would wake up and he could rise, he could walk and he could eat.
“But two days ago he was not able to do that. He was not able to stand up, he was not able to eat, he was in a lot of pain and a lot of suffering. His quality of life was extremely poor.”
His death left the northern white rhino as “functionally extinct”.
Sudan, Najin and Fatu were among a group of four fertile northern white rhinos moved to the Ol Pejeta site from a zoo in the Czech Republic, with hopes that they could breed in an environment similar to their native habitat.
The other male, Suni, died of natural causes in October 2014, and there were no successful pregnancies.
Following the extraction of the eggs from Najin and Fatu, the team at Ol Pejeta tweeted: “We are so grateful for all the love and support coming our way right now!”
Donations are being accepted on the Ol Pejta Conservancy website to help them continue their work.