In August 2019, a team of scientists and conservationists broke new ground in saving the northern white rhinoceros from extinction. They harvested eggs from the two remaining females -Najin and Fatu- artificially inseminated them using frozen sperm from deceased males and created two viable northern white rhino embryos. With support from the Kenyan Government and in the presence of Hon Najib Balala, — Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife — the team repeated the procedure on December 17, 2019, and was able to create a new embryo over Christmas.

Najin & Fatu at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Photo courtesy: Jan Zwilling

All three embryos are now stored in liquid nitrogen while conservationists hunt for a suitable female to carry the precious calves. The team is hoping to implant the embryos into young, fertile Southern White Rhinos as it is too risky to carry out the procedure on the last remaining Northerns -Najin and Fatu.

The egg collection, embryo creation and preparation for the embryo transfer is a joint effort by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), Avantea, Dvur Králové Zoo, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The entire process is part of the “BioRescue” research. Its goal is to significantly advance assisted reproduction techniques (ART) and stem cell associated techniques (SCAT) complemented with a comprehensive ethical assessment carried out by the University of Padova for the benefit of the northern white rhinoceros.

The gestation period for rhinos is up to 18 months, meaning the first Northern White Rhino calf could be born by 2022.