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Scientists have cleared a significant hurdle in the years-long effort to save Africa’s northern white rhinoceros from extinction with the first-ever rhino pregnancy using in vitro fertilization.

The lab-assisted pregnancy, which researchers will announce today, involved implanting a southern white rhino embryo in a surrogate mother named Curra.

The advance provides the essential “proof of concept” that this strategy could help other rhinos, says Jan Stejskal of the BioRescue project, the international group of scientists leading this research.

BioRescue expects to soon implant a northern white rhino embryo into a southern white rhino surrogate mother. The two subspecies are similar enough, according to the researchers, that the embryo will be likely to develop.

Eventually this approach may also help other critically endangered rhinos, including the Asian Javan rhinoceros and the Sumatran rhinoceros, which each now number under 100 individuals, Stejskal says.

Source: National Geographic