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Biotech Startup Plans To Sell Fake Rhino Horns To Disrupt Poaching Market

Biotech Startup Plans To Sell Fake Rhino Horns To Disrupt Poaching Market

It goes without saying that poaching is a terrible crime. Not only is it damaging for land-owners, it also sees innocent and often endangered animals being killed.

For that reason, you can understand why some companies have joined the fight against poaching, with one bio-tech startup company in particular, doing their bit to disrupt the market for rhino's horns.

Two-year old startup Pembient, based in Seattle, WA, plans to 'bio-fabricate' rhino horns using 3D printing, making them genetically identical to the real thing. The company plans to create its fake horns from keratin - the same material found in fingernails and hair.

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Credit: PA Images

The company hopes that the fake horns will seem so real that telling them apart from natural rhino horns will be impossible, thereby pushing prices and demand for poaching down.

"If you cordon rhino horn off, you create this prohibition mindset," Matthew Markus, Pembient's CEO and co-founder told Business Insider. "And that engenders crime, corruption, and everything else that comes with a black market."

Rhinos are, sadly, extremely popular in the illegal wildlife trade. Their horns can fetch up to $60,000 (£45,306) per pound - more than their weight in gold.

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The problem is largely driven by the art and antiques market in China, with rhino horns regularly used to make high-value carvings like bracelets, as well as being used in traditional medicine.

South Africa is a particular hotspot for rhino poaching, with the problem increasing massively in recent years. According to the non-profit Save the Rhino, 1,054 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2016, compared to just 13 in 2007.

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While this sounds like an ingenious solution in theory, two rhino conservation organisations have doubts that Pembient's plan will have that much impact.

The International Rhino Foundation and Save The Rhino International have pointed out that many rhino horns on the black market are already fake and yet are still sold for astronomical prices.

"More than 90% of 'rhino horns' in circulation are fake (mostly carved from buffalo horn or wood), but poaching rates continue to rise annually," the two NGOs wrote in a joint statement.

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The NGOs also argued that Pembient's efforts to develop and market fake horns will divert attention from the 'real problem' of ending rhino poaching at its source.

However, other groups are more open to Pembient's experiment. In 2015, TRAFFIC, a non-profit organisation that monitors the wildlife trade, said "it would be rash to rule out the possibility that trade in synthetic rhinoceros horn could play a role in future conservation strategies."

Featured Image Credit: PA Images

Topics: Extinct, Business, News, Wildlife, Washington, Poaching, Pinned

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Chris Ogden

Chris Ogden is a journalist at LADbible. He graduated from the University of East Anglia with degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing before completing his NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism. Chris has previously written for the independent culture magazine The Skinny, among other publications.