Najin and Fatu are the last two Northern white rhinos on the planet.
They are both female and both incapable of carrying a pregnancy. The last male died in 2018.
It doesn't get more critical than this.
Conservationists here at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and their colleagues around the world are in a race against time to create a successful pregnancy using eggs harvested from Najin and Fatu and sperm collected from male northern white rhinos before they died.
18 eggs that were collected from Fatu, resulted in the creation of five new embryos in a lab in Cremona, Italy in May.
So far 29 northern white rhino embryos have been created explains Samuel Mutisya, is Head of Research and Species Conservation at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
" Subsequent lab activities resulted in five new embryos being produced. This brought the total to 29 and it is such a major breakthrough because this has never happened since we started this project and it offers great hope for the recovery of the Northern white rhinos."
The embryos are stored in liquid nitrogen to be transferred into a surrogate mother — a southern white rhino — in the coming months or years.
The project is a collaboration involving a team of scientists and conservationists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, collectively known as the BioRescue team.
Potential surrogate mothers have been identified says Mutisya adding that Southern white rhino females have been selected for their similarity to Northern white rhinos.
" The selection for ideal surrogates is critical for the process of the Northern white rhino recovery. We currently have a sufficient pool of females of the Southern white rhino descent that have been prepared and made available for this programme. It is important that their selection is done properly because you need an animal that has demonstrated capacity, it is reproductively sound. We choose the Southern white rhino because they have the same gestation period as the Northern white and therefore can carry pregnancy to full term. It is also easy when you are dealing with a member of a species whose behavior and tendencies and everything is the same as that of the Northern white rhino."
The Biorescue team will next perform embryo transfers with Southern white rhino embryos to check that their methods will result in a viable pregnancy, before applying the same approach to Northern white rhino embryos.
Jacob Anampio, a rhino keeper at Ol Pejeta Conservancy says he is honoured to care for these precious creatures.
"I always find great joy in looking after the Northern White Rhinos, as they symbolize our hope for the continued existence of this magnificent species in the future."
Decades of poaching have taken a heavy toll on rhino species.
The animals are killed for their horns, which have long been used as carving material and prized in traditional Chinese medicine for their supposed healing properties.
The last male northern white rhino was a 45-year-old named Sudan, who gained fame in 2017 when he was listed as “The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World” on the Tinder dating app as part of a fundraising effort. Sudan, named for the country where he was born in the wild, was euthanized in 2018 because of age-related ills.
"The loss of the Northern White Rhino from the face of the earth is a huge loss because you lose genes whose value cannot be currently quantified. You are also creating a trend that other species can disappear without care. Which pains us as reckless," says Mutisya.