Italian scientists have successfully created three northern white rhino embryos in a laboratory, a huge step for a subspecies that only has two surviving females.
The embryos were created using eggs from Fatu and Najin, the last two northern white rhinos remaining, who live out their days at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
Neither Najin nor Fatu are able to carry a pregnancy to full term due to age and reproductive tract issues.
In this successful fertilisation, scientists at the Avantea laboratory matured seven of the eggs in a culture dish.
The eggs were then injected with sperm cells from two deceased northern white rhino bulls.
This is the first time that scientists have been able to produce embryos for northern white rhinos using in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
The next step for these embryos will be a major hurdle: developing a viable pregnancy with a surrogate southern white rhino has not yet been achieved.
Below: A caregiver crouches next to Najin, the older of the world's last two remaining northern white rhinos, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya
IVF for nearly extinct white rhino
Race to save Kenya’s mountain bongos Mountain bongos, whitestriped and spiral-horned forest antelopes, can only be found in the wild in Kenya.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they have been driven to near extinction.
“It’s a very rare species,” says ecologist Mordecai Ogada.
“It's endemic to Kenya, highly endangered; less than 100 individuals known to be left in the wild, and that is why this species is really important."
The animals have been hunted for their bush meat and for their prized coat, skull and curved horns.
Human/wildlife interactions, especially the sharing of grazing grounds with livestock, also led to the spread of diseases, such as rinderpest, which decimated their populations.
Some were taken to zoos overseas, and efforts to save the animals have hinged on returning them to Kenya.
"The fascination with the species led some people to hunt it – sport hunters – and it also led to animal capture and trade, which happened with a lot of bongos being captured from here and being traded to zoos, particularly in the United States,” says Ogada.
“And the animals that have been brought back now are actually largely descended from bongos that were originally captured here and reared in zoos in the United States, either for display as specimens or even for hunting.”
There were only 18 of these shy creatures left in captivity in the US.
They were repatriated to Kenya in 2004 to begin the process of breeding them and re-establishing mountain bongos in their natural territor y.
The animals are kept at Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, where keepers feed them with nutritional supplements known as ‘bongo cubes’, since they do not have access to the natural vegetation that is normally found in the wild.