UK zoo donates white rhino eggs in IVF bid to save species

LONDON (Reuters) - A British zoo is using IVF technology to help the three remaining northern white rhinos procreate and save the species from extinction.

Scientists at Longleat safari park in Warminster, England, extracted nine eggs from three female southern white rhinos in their facility earlier this week.

The eggs will be used by researchers at a clinic in Italy to develop IVF technology that eventually could be used with genetic material from the northern whites.

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Last three northern white rhinos left in the world
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Last three northern white rhinos left in the world
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAIKIPIA, KENYA - MAY 03: A northern white rhinoceros is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, in Central Kenya's Laikipia County on April 03, 2017. At the edge of the extinction, three northern white rhinoceros are the last ones of their species in the world. Three northern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) those named Sudan, the male one; Najin and Fatu, female ones, are being guarded and observed 24 hours to keep away poachers. (Photo by Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY NICOLAS DELAUNAY An elite anti-poaching unit embarks on an evening patrol on foot, on December 5, 2016, at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia County -- at the foot of Mount Kenya -- that is home to the planet's last-three northern white rhinoceros. As 2016 draws to an end, awareness of the devastation of poaching is greater than ever and countries have turned to high-tech warfare -- drones, night-goggles and automatic weapons -- to stop increasingly armed poachers. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at the African Black market, rhino horn sells for up to 60,000 USD (57,000 euros) per kilogram -- more than gold or cocaine -- and in the last eight years alone roughly a quarter of the world population has been killed in South Africa, home to 80 percent of the remaining animals. / AFP / Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY NICOLAS DELAUNAY Najin, the older of only two remaining female northern white rhinoceros subspecies, sleeps on December 5, 2016, at the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia County -- at the foot of Mount Kenya -- that is home to the planet's last-three northern white rhinoceros. As 2016 draws to an end, awareness of the devastation of poaching is greater than ever and countries have turned to high-tech warfare -- drones, night-goggles and automatic weapons -- to stop increasingly armed poachers. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at the African Black market, rhino horn sells for up to 60,000 USD (57,000 euros) per kilogram -- more than gold or cocaine -- and in the last eight years alone roughly a quarter of the world population has been killed in South Africa, home to 80 percent of the remaining animals. / AFP / Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
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If scientists are unable to use IVF to create a pure northern white rhino, they have a back-up plan: to create and embryo using eggs from southern whites and sperm from a northern white to create a new hybrid species.

The southern white rhino is a sub-species that shares many of the characteristics of the northern white. While there are only three northern white rhinos left - all in captivity in Kenya - there are over 20,000 southern white rhinos, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Advanced age and fertility problems have meant that the three remaining northern whites have been unable to breed naturally.

(Writing by Mark Hanrahan in London; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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