The future of the northern white rhino, nearly extinct, has hope for a new generation of the rare pachyderms after BioRescue, an international team of scientists and wildlife conservationists, have produced four embryos, according to a statement released by the group.
The embryos were produced in March from immature eggs (oocyte) harvested from Fatu, one of the world's two surviving female white rhinos.
The series of procedures began with the egg harvest in Kenya, then were transported to Italy to conduct in vitro fertilisation and cryopreservation.
After incubating and maturing the egg cells in Italy, 14 were fertilised with thawed sperm from Suni, a deceased northern white rhino bull.
Four of the fertilised eggs developed into viable embryos that are now stored in liquid nitrogen along with the five embryos already created in previous procedures.There are now a total of nine embryos, all derived from oocytes collected from Fatu.
These will be transferred to surrogate southern white female rhinos at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya.
In order for the surrogates to be at the right stage in their reproductive cycle, a white rhino bull, Owuan, will be introduced to the females. He has been sterilized so he will not impregnate the surrogates, but will help to bring them to the optimal part of their cycle.
"With nine pure northern white rhino embryos now developed, the partners in the project should embark on the next phase of the project - embryo transfer to the surrogate southern white females at Ol Pejeta Conservancy," says Kenya Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala.
"We are eager to get the progeny from the project that will guarantee survival of the species," he adds.
Biorescue is composed of the Kenya Wildlife service, Leibniz-IZW, a German research institute, Safari Park Dvůr Králové, a safari park in the Czech Republic, and Avantea laboratory in Cremona, Italy, and the University of Padua, Italy.