A report on New Scientist describes how one company is bioprinting rhinoceros horns to save the troubled beast from extinction. Or are they?
Rhino horns are a highly desired product in some regions, as ground-up horn is considered a powerful aphrodisiac. Demand for rhino horn material has generated a culture of poachers in rhino-populated areas, who kill the animals solely for their horn. This has left the species in some difficulty.
Enter 3D bioprinting. A startup in Seattle called Pembient is attempting to produce “Bioengineered Wildlife Products”, such as rhino horns and elephant ivory. They explain:
Our goal is to replace the illegal wildlife trade, a $20B black market, the fourth largest after drug, arms, and human trafficking, with sustainable commerce.
The pseudo-horn will sell for apparently 10x less than true rhino horn, and should be available in the fall. The idea is that the demand will be satisfied with an artificial product.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But New Scientist reports the scheme may backfire as the line between faux and real may become blurred, particularly in the marketplace.
Those currently charged with rectifying the situation are focusing instead on changing people’s needs through education. They hope to lower demand rather than satisfying the demand.
It may be that demand for rhino horn actually increases if more people catch on to a lower-priced alternative. Good for Pembient, but probably bad for surviving rhinos.