Nairobi, July 5 – An international team of scientists has successfully created hybrid embryos from southern white rhino eggs and northern white rhino sperm using assisted reproduction techniques (ART), Nature Communications journal reported.

It is the first ever reported generation of blastocysts (pre-implantation embryos) of rhinos in a test tube, a development that could lead to the regeneration of northern white rhinos, a species that is functionally extinct, with only two females of this group of pachyderms left on the planet.

The last male northern white rhino, nicknamed Sudan, died in March in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

“These are the first in vitro produced rhinoceros embryos ever. They have a very high chance to establish a pregnancy once implanted into a surrogate mother,” said Thomas Hildebrandt, Head of the Department of Reproduction Management at the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz IZW) in Berlin.

The scientists successfully managed to adapt reproduction techniques used in horses to the special circumstances of rhino species, opening up the potential to bring back the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction. This would be achieved by adopting the pioneered procedure to oocytes to be collected from the last two living northern white rhino females.

Female southern white rhinos could then act as surrogate mothers to a fledging northern white rhino population.

Northern white rhinos are the most endangered mammals on Earth. All conservation efforts to save the species have been foiled by human activities such as poaching, civil war and habitat loss. This resulted in a reduction of the population from 2,000 individuals in the 1960s to just the two remaining females today.