Scientists create embryos to save functionally extinct northern white rhino

Scientists have created three more embryos to help save the functionally extinct northern white rhino, bringing the total to 12 embryos they have created so far.

The newest embryos were created after Fatu, who lives with her mother Najin on Kenya's 90,000-acre Ol Pejeta wildlife conservancy, provided eggs for them. 

The sperm from two different deceased males was used to fertilize the eggs.

The news, announced Thursday night, comes six months after researchers from the BioRescue team at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research created five embryos using eggs from Fatu.  

The first batch of embryos was created in 2019.

Both Fatu and Najin are unable of carrying a calf to term, so surrogate mothers for the embryos will be selected from a population of southern white rhinos.

It is estimated there are around 18,000 southern white rhinos left in the world, with a status that is classified as 'near threatened,' according to the World Wildlife Fund.  

Ol Pejeta director Richard Vigne told AFP on Friday that he believed in the project's chances of success, while emphasizing the high stakes.

'No one is going to pretend that this is going to be easy,' he said.

'We are doing things which are cutting-edge from a scientific perspective and we a dealing with genetics, with the two last northern white rhinos left on the planet,' said Vigne.

'There are many, many things that could go wrong,' he added. 

'I think everybody understand the challenges that remain.'

Since 2019, Biorescue has collected 80 eggs from Najin and Fatu, but the 12 viable embryos all hail from the younger rhino.

Rhinoceroses have very few natural predators but their numbers have been decimated by poaching since the 1970s.