Scientists in Italy fertilize eggs from last two northern white rhinos

Posted at 5:35 AM, Aug 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-26 05:35:10-04

CREMONA, Italy — Eggs removed from the last two female northern white rhinos have been fertilized with sperm from the now-dead last male, but it will be about 10 days before it’s known whether the eggs have become embryos, an Italian assisted-breeding company said Monday.

“We expect some of them will develop into an embryo,” Cesare Galli, a founder of Avantea and an expert in animal cloning, said.

Avantea said that only seven of 10 eggs extracted last week from the females in Kenya could be used in the fertilization attempts Sunday using frozen sperm that had been taken from the male, which died in March 2018.

Najin (foreground), 30, and her offspring Fatu, 19, the last two northern white rhinos left on the planet, graze in their secured paddock on August 23, 2019 at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki, north of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Wildlife experts and veterinarians are hoping that the species can reproduce via a surrogate mother rhino.

The Associated Press was granted exclusive access to the laboratory to film the procedure being carried out on Sunday.

Galli, a founder of the company, said that to improve chances for a species’ continuation, it is better not to “get to the last two individuals before you use this technology.”

The male, a 45-year-year-old named Sudan, gained fame in 2017 with his listing as “The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World” on the Tinder dating app in a fundraising effort. Sudan was euthanized after age-related complications.

Decades of poaching decimated the northern white rhino’s numbers.

The ultimate goal is to create a herd of at least five animals that could be returned to their natural habit in Africa. That could take decades.

Sudan was the last of his kind to be born in the wild, in the country he was named after.

Other rhinos — the southern white rhino and the black rhino — are also prey for poachers, who kill them for their horns to supply illegal markets in parts of Asia.