Nairobi, Aug 23 – In an effort to save the northern white rhino from complete extinction, an international consortium of scientists and conservationists have  completed a procedure that could enable assisted reproduction of the sub-species.

A team of veterinarians on August 22 successfully harvested eggs from the last two surviving females that live in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya — a procedure that had never been attempted in northern white rhinos before. The eggs will now be artificially inseminated with frozen sperm from a northern white rhino bull, and in the near future,  the embryo will be transferred to a southern white rhino surrogate mother.

With neither of the two northern white rhino females in Ol Pejeta, Najin and Fatu, able to carry a pregnancy, the future of the northern white rhino now rests solely on pioneering artificial reproduction techniques. The successful harvesting of their eggs means that scientists are one step closer to being able to save the northern white rhino from complete extinction.

The procedure was the result of years of research, development, adjustments and practice.

“Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch,” said Thomas Hildebrandt from Leibniz-IZW and David Ndeereh from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who headed the procedure. “We were able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes — 5 from Najin and 5 from Fatu — showing that both females can still provide eggs and thus help to save these magnificent creatures.”

The procedure was conducted with a probe, guided by ultrasound, which harvested immature egg cells (oocytes) from the ovaries of the animals when placed under general anaesthetic.

The successful procedure was a joint effort by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) Berlin, Avantea, Dvůr Králové Zoo, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).