3-D Printed Horns To Save Rhinos From Poaching
Rhino populations around the world are in serious trouble... the world's last male northern white rhinoceros, a male named Sudan, died on March 19 after being euthanized due to age-related illness. There are only two other members of the species left in the world, and both are female, so they're unable to continue the population.
So what's up with Rhinos, why are they disappearing? Well it turns out their is a huge market out there for their horns, and I mean huge! Rhino horns can fetch up to $60,000 per pound on the black market, more than the price of gold. Historically rhino populations were decimated by uncontrolled trophy hunting during the European colonial era. These days the main threat for Rhinos is coming from China and Asia through the illegal rhino horn trade. Buyers in Vietnam and China, two of the largest black market destinations, covet rhino horn products for different reasons. Some purchase horn chunks or powder for traditional medicinal purposes, aphrodisiac, exotic foods, jewelry, and the ability to show off their wealth.
A startup called Pembient is taking a novel approach to protect rhinos from the illegal rhino horn trade by using 3D printing and a bit of trolling. Pembient plans to sabotage the illegal rhino horn trade by flooding it with 3D printed rhino horns. The idea is to "bio-fabricate" rhino horns out of keratin, the same material that fingernails and hair are made of, using 3D printing to undercut the horn market. According to Matthew Markus, Pembient's C.E.O and cofounder: the horns are genetically identical to real ones on the "macroscopic, microscopic, and molecular" level. The 3D horns will look and feel so real that distinguishing them from the natural ones will be impossible. Because the fake horns are much cheaper to produce, they could be sold at a lower cost and push prices down. The market will end up charging less for every horn, since there won't be a reliable way to tell the difference.
The International Rhino Foundation and Save The Rhino International, two NGOs dedicated to rhino conservation, claim 90% of 'rhino horns' in circulation are fake (mostly carved from buffalo horn or wood), but poaching rates continue to rise annually. They argue that developing and marketing synthetic horns diverts attention from efforts to end rhino poaching, which according to them is "real problem." Other groups like TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitor, says "It would be rash to rule out the possibility that trade in synthetic rhinoceros horn could play a role in future conservation strategies," Another anti-poaching strategy involves park rangers and veterinarians surgically removing rhino horns (they grow back) to protect the animals from being hunted.
Pembient's 3D horns will eventually be sold as raw material to traditional carvers in Asia, and used to produce high-value goods like bracelets and combs that fetch exorbitant prices on the black market. Whatever the approach to end the illegal rhino horn trade is, this is for sure, Rhinos aren't going anywhere anytime soon without a fight!