Promising developments in the harvesting of eggs belonging to the two last northern white rhinos in the world means scientists are one step closer to saving the species from extinction.
On 22 August a team of veterinarians successfully harvested the eggs from the only two rhino's, both female, who live in Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
This is an unprecedented procedure and the last hope in keeping the northern white rhino from complete extinction.
"Both the techniques and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch," Thomas Hildebrandt from Leibniz Institue for Zoo and Wildlife Research Berlin said.
"We were able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes - 5 from Najin and 5 from Fatu - showing that both females can provide eggs and thus help save these magnificent creatures," David Ndeereh from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) added.
The mammals were placed under general anesthetic for an ultrasound-guided procedure which involved a probe to harvest the immature eggs cells from the animals' ovaries.
"The anesthesia went smoothly without any complications although these animals had not been immobilized for the last five years," Frank Goeritz from Leibniz- IZW, Dominic Mijele from KWS and Stephen Ngulu of Ol Pejeta all said.
The eggs will be artificially inseminated with the frozen sperm of a northern white rhino bull and the resulting embryo will be transferred to a southern white rhino as neither Najin nor Fatu would be able to have a pregnancy.
The project has been lead by the Leibniz- IZW, Avantea, Dvur Králové Zoo, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the KWS.
"The number of harvested oocytes is a wonderful success and proof that the unique cooperation between scientists, experts in zoos and conservationists in the field can lead to hopeful prospects even for the animals that are imminently facing extinction," Jan Stejskal from Dvur Králové Zoo, where the two rhinos were born, concluded.
In December 2009 a joint effort between the Czech Zoo, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and KWS resulted in the relocation of Najin, Fatu and two males.
The team was hopeful that placing the mammals in their natural environment would encourage them to mate and although several attempts were recorded and witnessed but resulted in no pregnancies.
Scientists concluded that the females were not capable of carrying a pregnancy.
Suni and Sudan died in 2014 and 2018 but their sperm was frozen with the view that one they day it could be used with assisted reproduction techniques.
"The assisted reproductive technique should galvanize the world's attention to the plight of all rhinos and make us avoid decisions that undermine law enforcement and fuel demand of rhino horn," Najib Balala, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, said. EFE-EPA