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Tense wait after eggs fertilized in bid to save northern white rhino from extinction

Italy Rhinos
Researcher Paola Turini works at the Avantea laboratory during the inseminating of eggs from the last two remaining female of northern white rhinos with frozen sperm from two rhino bulls of the same species, in Cremona, Italy, Aug. 25, 2019. AP

Cremona, Italy — Eggs removed from the last two female northern white rhinos have been fertilized with sperm from the now-dead last male, but it will be about 10 days before it's known whether the eggs have become embryos, an Italian assisted-breeding company said Monday.

"We expect some of them will develop into an embryo," Cesare Galli, a founder of Avantea and an expert in animal cloning, said.

Avantea said that only seven of 10 eggs extracted last week from the females in Kenya could be used in the fertilization attempts Sunday using frozen sperm that had been taken from the male, which died in March 2018.

Wildlife experts and veterinarians are hoping that the species can reproduce via a surrogate mother rhino.

The fight to save the northern white rhino

The Associated Press was granted exclusive access to the laboratory to film the procedure being carried out on Sunday.

Galli, a founder of the company, said that to improve chances for a species' continuation, it is better not to "get to the last two individuals before you use this technology."

The male, a 45-year-year-old named Sudan, gained fame in 2017 with his listing as "The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World" on the Tinder dating app in a fundraising effort. Sudan was euthanized after age-related complications.

Decades of poaching decimated the northern white rhino's numbers.

The ultimate goal is to create a herd of at least five animals that could be returned to their natural habit in Africa. That could take decades.

Hope for dwindling northern white rhinos with artificial insemination

Sudan was the last of his kind to be born in the wild, in the country he was named after.

Other rhinos — the southern white rhino and the black rhino — are also prey for poachers, who kill them for their horns to supply illegal markets in parts of Asia.

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