A San Francisco biotech startup is 3D printing rhino horns to defeat poachers

You know what they say: A 3D printer is a conservationist’s best friend.

Or at least, according to an American biotech firm that is using 3D printing technology to produce synthetic horns and curb rhino poaching.

Pembient, who recently graduated from a startup accelerator program in San Francisco, are planning to flood the Chinese market with fakes in a bid to bring down the price of bonafide rhino horns and push poachers out of the business.

The horns look almost identical to those of actual rhinos and contain rhino DNA. But the key ingredient is keratin, cited as the main reason for rhino horn demand in China, where some people believe that the gelatinous hair has medicinal properties.

Pembient CEO Matthew Markus said that his company will force poachers out of the market by selling the fakes at a fraction of the price of real horns.

“We can produce a rhinoceros horn product that is actually more pure than what you can get from a wild animal,” Mr Markus told the digital journal.

“Demand reduction is important, but hard to do, especially when you’re tackling so many things,” Mr Markus added to the Fast Company.

Conservation groups haven’t reacted all that well to the news, saying that producing fakes might just increase knowledge of and demand for the real thing.

Susie Ellis, executive director of International Rhino Foundation, told Quartz: “Selling synthetic horn does not reduce the demand for rhino horn [and] could increase the demand for ‘the real thing’.

“Questions arise as to how law enforcement authorities will be able to detect the difference between synthetic and real horn, especially if they are sold as powder or in manufactured products.”

If they manage to overcome their critics, Pembient are also planning to release a beer brewed with the synthetic horns. May we suggest the name: ‘Horny Brew’?

Image via Tambako The Jaguar / cc

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