Northern white rhino keeper, James Mwenda, checks on Najin, one of the last two northern white rhino on the planet. Najin lives at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
Ami Vitale/Ol Pejeta Conservancy
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Only beeps from medical monitoring equipment broke the silence as veterinarians harvested eggs from the last two northern white rhinos on the planet.

The last two northern white rhinos left worldwide – Fatu and Najin – are both female and living at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The last male, Sudan, died last year, raising fears the subspecies is on the verge of extinction, especially because the two females cannot carry a pregnancy.

In a new glimmer of hope, scientists announced Wednesday that they successfully fertilized in-vitro embryos collected from the two remaining female northern white rhinos.

Scientists collect eggs from the ovaries of one of the female rhinos.
Ami Vitale/Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Scientists collect eggs from the ovaries of one of the female rhinos.

The embryos were created with eggs extracted from Fatu and Najin by international scientists last month and frozen sperm from dead males. Two embryos were viable, and are now stored in liquid nitrogen, waiting to be transferred into a surrogate mother in the near future, Ol Pejeta Conservancy said in a statement.

The embryos are just one part of a long journey to stop the northern white rhino’s rapid descent into extinction.

Najin and Fatu are not able to carry a pregnancy themselves, so the embryos will likely be transferred to a female southern white rhino who would act as a surrogate.

“Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was (an) almost unachievable goal – and today we have them,” said Jan Stejskal of Dvůr Králové Zoo, where Najin and Fatu were born.

Najin (left) and Fatu are the last two northern white rhinos on the planet.
Ami Vitale/Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Najin (left) and Fatu are the last two northern white rhinos on the planet.

The last male of the species, named Sudan, died of natural causes in March 2018. Another male, Suni, died in 2014. Sperm from both males was cryogenically frozen with the hope that someday the technology would advance enough to use it in reproduction.

’A tangible reality’

Sudan died of natural causes in March last year and another male died in 2014. Sperm from both males was cryogenically frozen with the hope that technology would advance enough to use it in reproduction.

The harvested eggs were airlifted from Kenya to Italy, where the Avantea laboratory will fertilize the eggs in vitro with the sperm from the decreased males.

A race against time

Rhinos are targeted by poachers, fueled by the belief in Asia that their horns cure various ailments. Experts say the rhino horn is becoming more lucrative than drugs.

With only two left worldwide, there’s a race against time to try to sustain the northern white rhino.

The western black rhino was declared extinct years ago as a result of poaching. All five remaining rhino species worldwide are considered threatened, according to the conservation group Save the Rhino.

CNN’s Christina Zdanowicz contributed to this report.