Will 3D Printing Save Rhinos?

Dealing with all kinds of animal parts is a highly profitable job. Even though no real healing effect has been proven, people today still believe that these things are a powerful magical panaceas. And this ongoing believe pays off for poachers: One kilogram of a complete rhino horn, for instance, brings around $60.000 on the black market. Science and 3D printing technology now have a new answer for poachers and those who want to save the endangered animals. The tech startup Pembient from Seattle has created a new way of tackling the market for rhino horns: They simply fake them.

rhinos

Dealing with all kinds of animal parts is a highly profitable job. Be it shark fins, the eyes or brains of tigers or elephants and rhinos for their ivory and horns. Even though no real healing effect has been proven, people today still believe that these things are a powerful magical panaceas. And this ongoing believe pays off for poachers: One kilogram of a complete rhino horn, for instance, brings around $60.000 on the black market.

This never ending demand for animal products has fatal consequences for the existence of these wonderful animals: Some of the five big rhino breeds are already declared extinct. As of now there are less than 100 Sumatran rhinos and only four northern white rhinos remain in Central Africa. Still the poaching continues and even increased since 2008. In order to stop the killing of rhinos several approaches have come up in the past: From protecting the animals in reservations to legalizing the trade or sawing off the horns before the rhinos get poached.

Rhino horns out of the printer

Science and 3D printing technology now have a new answer for poachers and those who want to save the endangered animals. The tech startup Pembient from Seattle has created a new way of tackling the market for rhino horns: They simply fake them. The scientists figured out the genetic sequence of the horn material which consists of a specific kind of keratin protein. With the help of a 3D printer they use the keratin protein and create genetically similar rhino horn substitutes. Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient, said, “You can’t physically tell the difference. No one looking at this could tell this wasn’t from a rhino. It’s the same thing. For all intents and purposes, this is a real rhino horn.”

Fake horns to serve the medicinal market

As mentioned before the demand on the black market for rhino horns based on their imagined powers is still enormously high. With Prembient’s solution they want to invade that market and directly tackle the medicine sector with their product. Although the startup developed a horn substitute it does not sell the complete horns. The scientists rather created a powder made from the horn material. The aim of the company is to start selling the powder by fall 2016 only at a fraction of the costs for real horns. By this they hope that prices on the black market decrease and therefore the poaching as well.

For more information about rhino extinction and the use of 3D printing to save them, check out this video.


What do you think? Is 3D printing the answer to the extensive hunt for rhinos all over the world? Leave your opinion in the commentaries.