Is This 3D Rhino Horn Good for Conservation, or Just a Money Grab?

A rare white rhino that is now protected by guards.
 (Image: pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)
A rare white rhino that is now protected by guards. (Image: pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)

Is this biotech company cashing in on the illegal trade of rhino horn? Pembient has a plan to combine DNA technology and 3D printing, in what it says is the best way to ensure the survival of the rhinoceros in the wild.

With poaching being the cause of rhino populations facing extinction, the San Francisco Company has made 3D printed fake rhino horns very cheaply.

It plans to flood the Chinese market in what it says “to curb poaching.”

Biotech startup Pembient is making rhino horns, sans rhino:

This is a problem that has been around for years, with people believing that rhino horn treats fevers or can beautify the skin. The industry is very lucrative, with prices of $65,000 per kilogram ($30,000/pound). The demand for the horn is so great the last male northern white rhino has a permanent armed guard, even with part of his horn having been removed in an attempt to make him a less attractive target.

According to The Guardian, Markus is the co-founder of Pembient, a startup that aims to thwart the illegal wildlife trade by recreating animal products in the lab. It is starting with rhino horns, but has plans for more complex materials, such as elephant tusks.

The hope is to produce rhino horn so biologically similar to wild horn—but at about one tenth of the black market price—that buyers and illegal traders will switch, thereby curtailing relentlessly increasing poaching levels.

Essence of rhino horn TVC by Pembient:

Rhino horn is made up of keratin, which is the same stuff that our finger nails are made off (fibrous protein). So what Pembient has done is to take some keratin, added some DNA, and then simply 3D printed it—the end result is a rhino horn.

IFL Science wrote the product will sell for an eighth of the market rate for horns mutilated from previously living rhinos, which Pembient believes will force poachers out of business. “We’re like the universal cutting agent,” Pembient CEO Matthew Markus told Fast Company.

Stop wildlife crime: Rhinos poaching:

“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 added.

Some people even believe that it will cure a hangover, and of course Pembient have partnered with a Beijing brewery and are planning to add their fake horn to beer.

This on the surface seem to be a good idea, but I am under no illusions that this is simply a business trying to make money. In their YouTube video, it is quite clear to me that this is all about the money, and little to do with the truth about the real issues. While Pembient are looking at the ivory trade, I hope they start to look at the environmental issues with conservation in mind, not just the money. What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below.

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