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Birth of baby rhino marks major milestone in effort to save critically endangered species

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Posted at 5:22 PM, Aug 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 14:49:49-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) - The recent birth of a southern white rhino calf marks a major success milestone in the project to save the species' close genetic cousin, the northern white rhino.

Only two northern whites are left in the world. Both are females incapable of reproducing.

Edward, the calf born in late July, was conveived through in vitro fertilization using frozen sperm samples.

"It was so exciting for everyone who worked on this project, the culmination of a very long time and a lot of work," said Dr. Barbara Durrant, a scientist who has worked on the in vitro aspect of the project.

Still, Durrant says this milestone still comes during the early stage of the audacious plan. Scientists eventually hope to create northern white embryos with stem cells. Those embryos would then be transferred into female southern white rhinos, who would deliver and raise the calves.

The Safari Park brought six females to its facility to act as surrogates, including Victoria, the female who gave birth to Edward.

Durrant is excited to move to the next step.

"We're turning our efforts more toward the lab, toward figuring out how to do the in vitro fertilization and the embryo development.

Durrant estimates as long as ten years until the project finally leads to a living northern white rhino calf.

Edward is currently being kept in a part of the Safari Park to which the public does not have access. But zookeepers anticipate he'll be ready for public viewing by the end of August.