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Is There Any Hope for the Northern White Rhino?

You've almost certainly never seen a northern white rhino, but thanks to the efforts of some scientists in Italy, you might someday get a chance. A critically endangered species, the northern white rhino is down to its last two specimens on Earth -- and they're both female. Such a predicament would typically mean the end is near, but the international team of scientists refused to give up. Instead, they extracted 10 eggs from the females and attempted to fertilize them with sperm that had been taken from two male rhinos before their deaths. It was a unique and unprecedented endeavor, but the work appears to be worth it. "We were really able to do something no one before has been able to do,” Jan Stejskal, a member of the team, said. “We still don’t know whether we’ll have embryos, but it was successful anyway. We proved that there is a real chance for them to have offspring.” Despite the success, there is still much to do, including finding a surrogate to carry the little rhino to term. Before that happens, at least one of the eggs must grow into a blastocyst, and a technique for transferring the embryo to the surrogate must be perfected. If all of that goes well, it might not be long before the world sees the return of a nearly extinct species.

Read about the rhino:

  • While all rhino species can grow to 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) or more, white rhinos can exceed 7,700 pounds (3,500 kg).
  • A rhino's horn is made from the same substance as human fingernails and hair: keratin.
  • Rhinos have a great sense of smell and terrific hearing, but seeing anything farther away than about 100 feet (30 m) is almost impossible.
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