Saving Rhino’s With 3D Printing


In 2017 the number of rhino’s poached reached 1,028 in South Africa. This works out at nearly 3 rhinos being killed every day. Rhino horns are still prized in countries such as Vietnam and China for their medical properties. The horn is so prized that by weight the rhino horn is more expensive than gold. A start-up company from Seattle plan to combat the poaching trade by creating a 3d printed rhino horn. The 3d printed version is biologically identical to the real thing.

How will this prevent the poaching trade?

Start-up Pembient is using 3D printed biotechnology to create bio-identical rhino horns, they plan to place them on the black market for around one-tenth of the price of the real thing. Undercutting the poaching trade and forcing buyers and illegal sellers to switch to the 3d printed horn. The horn is so biologically similar to the real thing that buyers won’t be able to tell the difference.

Owner of Pembient Matthew Markus says “We are working towards a bio-identical product by reverse-engineering rhino horn down to the smallest degree. Our goal is that the only way you can tell the difference is that there will be pollutants in the wild horn.” Pembient is starting with rhino horns but has plans to expand into other animal products too. All done by recreating animal products in the lab to combat the illegal poaching trade. In theory, it’s a fantastic idea but will traders accept the ‘fake’ version? Markus says “We surveyed users of rhino horn and found that 45 percent of them would accept using rhino horn made from a lab”.

Is it all good news? Could this have a negative effect on the illegal poaching trade? The founder has stated that “In our model, we don’t want to see a legal trade in wild rhino horn. We simply want to establish a bio-fabricated horn market. Biofabricated horn will be priced significantly lower than wild rhino horn even though it will be indistinguishable from it. What we hope is that traders will sell bio-fabricated horn as bio-fabricated horn,” said Markus.

Illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest after drugs, arms and human trafficking worth a massive $20 billion (£14.3 billion) on the black market. Pembient is confident they can have bio-identical products ready for the market in two years.

Let us know what you think of the bio-lab created rhino horns, is it fuelling a market that shouldn’t exist or could it help save the poached rhino population? We think that anything which can help reduce the number of rhino deaths is a brilliant thing to be developing and it’s great to see the technology of 3D printing used to benefit the wildlife.

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