Researchers successfully generated viable embryos through in vitro fertilization techniques in a last-ditch attempt to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

The achievement was announced Sept. 11 by Cesare Galli, the director of Avantea Laboratories in Cremona, Italy, where the in vitro creation of northern white rhino embryos took place.

Galli, a former professor of animal production and biotechnology at the University of Bologna, led an international team of conservation researchers. Using eggs collected from the world’s last two surviving northern white rhino at a conservancy in Kenya, the researchers artificially inseminated those eggs with frozen sperm from deceased northern white rhino bulls and successfully created two embryos.

According to Galli, the embryos are now stored in liquid nitrogen to be transferred into a surrogate mother in the near future.

Southern White Rhino

Researchers have identified the southern white rhino as the optimal candidate for surrogacy.

The only two surviving northern white rhinos in the world—both females—are unable to carry calves, due to health factors. The last male died last year, according to Stephen Ngulu, a wildlife veterinarian at Ol Pejeta conservancy, 245 miles northeast of Nairobi.

So far, no rhino has been born using in vitro fertilization.

The long-term objective is to reintroduce northern white rhinos into secure habitats within their former range in sub-Saharan Africa. The northern white rhino’s historic range covered northwestern Uganda, southern Chad, South Sudan, the eastern part of Central African Republic, and the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.