Scientists succeed in creating northern white rhino embryos

CREMONA, Italy — Scientists announced Wednesday they have succeeded in creating 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 worldwide, both of them female.

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

“Today we achieved an important milestone on a rocky road which allows us to plan the future steps in the rescue program of the northern white rhino,” 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 planning and developing the procedure for years.

The ultimate 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.

Decades of poaching have taken a heavy toll on the northern white rhino and other rhino species. The animals are killed for their horns, which have long been used as carving material and prized in traditional Chinese medicine for their supposed healing properties.

The last male northern white rhino was a 45-year-old named Sudan, who gained fame in 2017 when he was listed as “The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World” on the Tinder dating app as part of fundraising effort. Sudan, named for the country where he was born in the wild, was euthanized in 2018 because of age-related ills.

The creation of the embryos was achieved at Cremona’s Avantea Laboratories. Cesare Galli and his team extracted five immature egg cells from each of the remaining females, Najin and Fatu, who live at a conservancy in Kenya.

After being incubated, seven of those cells matured and were suitable for fertilization. Two of the fertilized eggs developed into viable embryos.

“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, director of communication at the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Najin and Fatu were born. “This fantastic achievement of the whole team allows us to be optimistic over our next steps.”

Pregnant woman evacuated off migrant ship by helicopterABOARD THE OCEAN VIKING — Malta’s armed forces airlifted a nine months pregnant Nigerian woman and her husband Wednesday from a charity-run ship carrying more than 80 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

A helicopter winched the couple off the Ocean Viking, a sea rescue ship operated by nonprofit groups SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, after the vessel requested a medical evacuation earlier in the day.

A midwife and a medical team examined the pregnant woman on the Ocean Viking and determined she had “developed a serious medical complication which could put her and the baby at risk,” Doctors Without Borders Project Coordinator Erkinalp Kesikli said.

The Norwegian-flagged ship also appealed to Malta and Italy for a safe place of disembarkation for the 82 other migrants on board, but did not receive an immediate reply Wednesday.

Italy’s previous government closed its ports to humanitarian rescue ships. It is not yet clear if the government that took office last week will continue the policy.

The crew on the Ocean Viking found 50 of the migrants in a rubber boat Sunday, including the woman due to give birth at any time. The ship took on another 34 migrants Monday from a sailboat operated by another humanitarian group.

The Ocean Viking received instructions Tuesday to bring the migrants to the port in Zawiyah, Libya. The crew refused, saying Libya is not a safe place to disembark.

1 killed, 2 injured in building explosion

BERLIN — Fire services say one person died and two people were injured in an explosion and a subsequent fire in a residential building in the western German city of Duesseldorf.

Officials said Wednesday that the cause of the explosion in the small apartment block overnight, which sprayed debris across the road, is still unclear.German news agency dpa quoted Duesseldorf police as saying the deceased man was 75 years old. The two injured people included a pregnant woman.

5 new cases of disease found in dogs

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norwegian authorities says five more cases have appeared of an unexplained disease that has affected dozens of dogs and killed at least 26 animals across the country.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority says it is still investigating the cause of the disease, whose symptoms include vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

The agency said Wednesday that a conclusion is still pending but there are no indications it can infect humans.

It also has recommended that dogs are held on a leash, should avoid close contact with other animals and not be allowed to sniff areas or eat material where other dogs might have been.

As a precaution, dogs from Norway have been temporarily banned from canine shows in neighboring Sweden and Denmark.

There are an estimated 500,000-600,000 dogs in Norway.

Fires still erupting in Amazon regions

RIO DE JANEIRO — Fires are still breaking out in Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado regions.

The country’s National Institute for Space Research published data Wednesday showing 7,457 fire alerts in the Amazon region and 8,012 in the Cerrado region in the first 10 days of September.The number of fires in 2019 across Brazil has surpassed 100,000, which is about 45% more than during the same period a year ago.

The flames and smoke have disrupted life for many and attracted widespread attention in recent weeks.

The Amazon is considered particularly important for its absorption of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The Associated Press

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