Scientist create two northern white rhino embryos - potentially doubling their population

Scientists have successfully created two embryos of the near-extinct northern white rhino, a milestone that could save the species whose population currently stands at just two.

The international consortium of scientists and conservationists created the two embryos in-vitro, using eggs collected from the two remaining females and frozen sperm from dead males.

The embryos are being stored in liquid nitrogen waiting to be transferred into a surrogate mother, a southern white rhino, in the near future.

Professor Cesare Galli and his team at Cremona's Avantea Laboratories in Italy collected 10 eggs in August from Najin and Fatu, the last two female northern white rhinos in the world, who live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, with sperm previously collected from males Suni and Saut.

Fatu and Najin, are fed carrots by a ranger in their enclosure at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. Credit: AP

Of the 10 eggs brought back from Kenya, seven matured and were suitable for fertilisation, Professor Galli told reporters on Wednesday.

After 10 days of incubation, two of Fatu's eggs developed into viable embryos that were cryopreserved for future transfer, the scientists said.

The last living male northern white rhino was a 45-year-year-old named Sudan, named after the country he was born in, who gained fame in 2017 when he was listed as "The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World" on the Tinder dating app in a fundraising effort.

Researcher Paola Turini shows the frozen sperm of Suni, a northern white rhino bull who died in 2014. Credit: AP

He was the last of his kind to be born in the wild and was later euthanised after age-related complications.

Prized for their horns, which are sold on the black market in Asia, northern white rhino numbers have been pushed to the edge of extinction by decades of poaching. This breakthrough is a step closer to the ultimate goal to create a herd of at least five animals that could be returned to their natural habit in Africa, a goal that could take decades to achieve.