Months after the death of Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino, scientists said 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.
"Our goal is to have in three years the first NWR calf born," Thomas Hildebrandt, head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, told journalists of the work.
"Taking into account 16 months [of] pregnancy, we have a little more than a year to have a successful implantation." The team's work, using a recently-patented, two-meter (6.6-foot) 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," said Hildebrandt.
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.