– Scientists have created two embryos of the near-extinct northern white rhino as part of an international effort to save the species, which is down to just two animals, both of them female.

The embryos, created in the lab with eggs taken from the females and frozen sperm from dead males, are stored in liquid nitrogen, to be transferred into a surrogate mother — a southern white rhino.

“We achieved an important milestone,” said Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany. The institute is part of an international consortium of scientists and conservationists that has been developing the procedure for years. The goal is to create a herd of at least five animals that could be returned to their natural habitat in Africa. That could take decades.

Poaching has taken a heavy toll on the northern white rhino and other rhino species. The animals are killed for their horns, used as carving material and prized in traditional Chinese medicine.

The last male northern white rhino was Sudan. He was euthanized in 2018 at age 45 because of age-related ills.

“Five years ago it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was an almost unachievable goal — and today we have them,” said Jan Stejskal of the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic.