3D-Printed Rhino Horns May Help Stop The Poaching Of Endangered Animals

Rhino horns are popular, especially in Asian countries. The horn are often used as decorative pieces due to their unique shine once carved. However, more often than not, they are sought after for their curative properties. Many believe the rhino horn can help cure poison and other afflictions, including hangovers. And consumers are willing to pay top price for black market rhino horns.

At upwards of $65,000 per kilogram, poachers are happy to oblige.

So one up-start company has a plan: fake rhino horns.

Pembient is a San Francisco-based company that specializes in bioengineering. Its latest feat is engineering a 3D-printed rhino horn. Pembient uses the protein keratin, found in hair, claws, etc., and rhino DNA to create a dried powder. This powdered then can be 3D printed in the shape of a rhino horn.

Thus, the fake horns are genetically the same was the real thing. All without causing harm to the animals.

Last year 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone. However, numbers all over Africa and in Asia are dwindling. Poachers outright kill the animal for its horn. Or hack the horn off and leave the rhino to die. On rare occasions, the rhino will live, with horrifying scars to their faces.

Recently, a rhino was found, whose poaches left her with a portion of her face missing. The rhino was named Hope, for her ability to survive through the trauma, and is doing well thanks to Saving the Survivors.

Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient, is planning to flood the market with his 3D-printed rhino horns. He hopes to undercut the real thing by selling his product for an eighth of the price.

"We're like the universal cutting agent. In the drug trade, usually a cutting agent is something that's cheaper and inferior to the product being cut. But if we can offer something as good as the product being cut but vastly cheaper, then anyone in the trade will naturally gravitate to using our product."
Markus argues that since his rhino horns are made in the lab they are much purer than those found in the wild. The 3D-printed horns are free from pesticides, genetic anomalies, and other defects that can be found in wild horns. The lab-made horns are closer to those of rhinos 2,000 years ago than the animals of today.

The company will also be marking the horns in some way so officials can tell the difference between the black market horns and the 3D-printed horns.

Pembient also offers the fake horn in a variety of ways including a dust. Rhino horns have been used in everything from facial creams to beer, and Pembient wants to offer products that will cover all the uses of rhino horns.

Do you think it is a good idea to offer 3D-printed rhino horns? Will people buy the cheaper fakes?

[Photo via Oli Scarff/Getty Images]