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First In Vitro Embryos Could Save The Northern White Rhino

Scientists harvested the eggs of southern white rhinos to breed with the last male northern white rhino via in vitro fertilization.
Posted at 2:00 PM, Jul 24, 2017

An international team of researchers is hoping to use in vitro fertilization to save a subspecies of rhinos.

The northern white rhino is on the brink of extinction: There are only three left in the world.

Officials at Longleat Zoo in the U.K. have harvested nine eggs from three of their southern white rhinos. They plan to fertilize them with sperm from the last northern white male and create hybrid offspring.

That way, if efforts to breed a full-blooded northern white rhino fail, at least half of its DNA will live on. And if the procedure goes well, eggs will be taken from the last female northern white rhinos, fertilized and planted in female hosts to create purebreds.

Saving the rhinos is a race against time. Sudan, the last male, is nearing the end of his life. Officials tell NPR he's 43 years old, which is about 95 in human years. And the two last females have fertility issues.

 A "Tinder profile" was created for Sudan to raise money for the procedure. It read: "I don't mean to be too forward, but the fate of my species literally depends on me." 

Poaching is partly to blame for the rhinos' diminishing numbers. In some places, a pound of rhino horn is worth tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.

Officials hope to begin harvesting eggs from the last living female northern white rhinos by the end of this year.