The rhinoceros is primarily poached for their horn, which is used mostly in Asian countries for medicinal purposes where it is also seen as a status symbol (which is no wonder, since rhinoceros horn sells for $60,000 a kilogram).
That’s why scientists from Pembient, a company that specializes in bioengineered wildlife products, have decided to start using 3D printers to make replicas that are completely indistinguishable from the real thing instead.
First, they created a power that was identical to the horn’s composition using various minerals, metals, and actual rhinoceros DNA. From there, they needed to get a printer to turn that powder into a good-looking 3D structure. Pembient had to create its own model of printer. Their horns are essentially the same as an actual rhinoceros horn – when independent labs run tests on the artificial horns, the results find that the material is from a rhino; the same thing happened when the team ran DNA tests as well.
Pembient has relationships with supplement and cosmetics manufacturers in Asia and Africa, which is how they plan to replace the real horns on the market. They are also considering actually selling the horns at a discount to the poachers themselves so that they can then sell them on the black market. While that may sound weird, most rhinoceros poachers do not necessarily have a malicious intent; most are simply in adverse financial circumstances and understand that the money from poaching a rhino could pay off for years to come.
The innovative idea could completely turn around the species’ fortune, preserving them for both the present and the future.
Image (c) Karl Ammann/DCL