Flooding the market with fake rhino horns
By Jeremy Berke
Rhinos are among the hardest hit by the illegal wildlife trade. The horns fetch high prices on the black market — up to $60,000 per pound, far more than the price of gold.
They're used to make elaborate carvings across East Asia and are also believed to have curative properties in some traditional Eastern medicine practices.
Pembient, a two-year-old Seattle-based biotech startup, is trying to solve the rhino poaching crisis with a 3D printer and some clever economics. The idea is to "bio-fabricate" rhino horns out of keratin — the same material that fingernails and hair are made of — using 3D printing to undercut the horn market.
The horns are genetically identical to real ones on the "macroscopic, microscopic, and molecular" level, Matthew Markus, Pembient's CEO and cofounder, told Business Insider. The fabricated horns, once perfected and market-ready, will look and feel so real that distinguishing them from the natural ones will be impossible.
People won't know whether they're buying real horns or fake ones.
Rhino poaching in South Africa, a global hotspot, has declined in recent months, but the problem is still dire: 1,054 rhinos were killed in the country in 2016, up from just 13 in 2007, according to the nonprofit Save the Rhino.
The art and antiques market in China largely drives the problem, according to a paper published in the journal Biological Conservation. Most buyers in China purchase high-value rhino-horn carvings as investments and collectible items, the study's lead author Yufang Gao wrote.
Pembient's fabricated horns will eventually be sold as raw material to traditional carvers in Asia, and used to produce high-value goods like bracelets and combs that fetch exorbitant prices on the black market.
By pushing fabricated horns into the supply-chain at various points, Markus explained, people won't know whether they're buying real rhino horns or fake one.
Because the fake horns are much cheaper to produce, they could be sold at a lower cost and push prices down across the board. (Because Pembient is still in its early stages, however, exact prices for the fabricated horns aren't set yet.) Ideally, the market will end up charging less for every horn, since there won't be a reliable way to tell the difference. Pembient borrowed this idea from a concept in economics called Gresham's Law, according to Markus, which states that if a low-value good, like a fake rhino horn, is passed off as the real thing, it drives down the value of all such items on the market.
"If you cordon rhino horn off, you create this prohibition mindset, Markus said. "And that engenders crime, corruption, and everything else that comes with a black market."
Markus hopes his plan will eventually lower incentives for poachers to slaughter rhinos.
A different approach to conservation
Pembient's strategy is a radical departure from the traditional demand-reduction approachespoused by conservationists. Reducing demand for rhino horns is "infeasible," Markus said. "And it's not really ethical either.
"These practices are based on thousands of years of cultural tradition — they're a lot older than Thanksgiving," he added. "We can't just tell them to stop."Some conservationists, however, don't agree. The International Rhino Foundation and Save The Rhino International, two NGOs dedicated to rhino conservation, have pointed out that many rhino horns fetching astronomical prices on the black market are already fake.
"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 organizations wrote in a joint statement.
The statement also argued that developing and marketing synthetic horns diverts attention from efforts to end rhino poaching, which is the "real problem."
But other groups are more open to the novel approach.
"It would be rash to rule out the possibility that trade in synthetic rhinoceros horn could play a role in future conservation strategies," TRAFFIC, a nonprofit that monitors the wildlife trade, wrote in a 2015 paper.
Another anti-poaching strategy involves park rangers and veterinarians surgically removing rhino horns (they grow back) to protect the animals from being hunted. But that also brings up ethical issues.
The path ahead for rhino conservation
Markus has attended numerous conservation conferences around the world, and readily acknowledges the stark difference between his approach and that of most traditional conservationists.
"While we both have the same goals," he said. "There's been a lot of friction."
Pembient is now pursuing some novel funding strategies to get its horns on the market.
In August, the company introduced a cryptocurrency via an initial coin offering, called Pembicoin. The coin offering is an effort fund research into the bio-fabricated horns and gauge consumer demand, according to the company's website.
For every coin purchased now earns the buyer one gram of biofabricated rhino horn once they become available in 2022.
Solution must be acceptable to Tamils Separate State is not a reasonable request - Former Army Commander, General Gerry De Silva RWP, VSV, USP
- UN damns Lanka 14,000 minors in childcare centres Calls for urgent reforms
- Russia restricts Lanka tea over beetle scare Top-level delegation off to Moscow
- Call to criminalize marital rape Justice Ministry seeks Cabinet approval
- Jumbo killings Armed protection unit to be set up Fines, jail terms to be increased
- Crossovers loom prior to polls
- SC issues notice on Elections Chief
- Jilted SLFP shuns JO forever
- CEB TU threatens strike Gives 18th as ultimatum
- Gnanasara Thera’s request for foreign travel denied
- Chinese envoy says OBOR will take Sino-Lanka ties to new level
- Police Chief in pre-poll warning Errant officers will be dealt with strictly
- Court extends Stay Order on Gota case
- Sriyani as State Minister of PCs and LG JO crossover pledged support for MS
- Rains to prevail Landslide warning to Galle, Kalutara to be reviewed
- BJP lauds ‘Ram Setu’ findings Hits out at critics
- Two held for impersonation at exam centre
- Female Genital Mutilation Advice sought from medical experts
- Hambantota Port to China India raises security concerns
- Indian Air Force Chief at passing out parade
- Statement from the Embassy of the State of Palestine
- LG Governance first to collapse in N&E
- Asgiriya Secy criticizes Govt
- Namal’s Hello Corp case on 13 December
- Attanayake’s foreign travel request Court to consider on 4 Dec
- Drugs & alcohol abuse in NE Religious reps to address issue
- Interesting battle at Havelock Park
- Thurstan win inaugural golf tourney
- History making Pulisic US men’s footballer of the year
- Knicks down Nets despite early exit for Porzingis
- 34th Mercantile Individual Tournament 2017 McLarens shuttlers Overall Champions
- Retired Hewitt takes tilt at Aussie Open doubles
- Lamborghini World Final 2017 Malagamuwa finishes third
- Committee clears Thilaka as SL coach
- Basnayake uncontested president at SLCF
- Premier League Club Cricket Primosh scores second ton
- Vinod and Taniya win Junior golf titles
- Taveesh wins two Gold medals
- Austin Waugh, in Australia's U-19
- CH come back to win
- Smith foils England again
- Emphatic win for CR
- No Malinga in T20 squad
- ‘Singer Trophy’ Under-19 Cricket Paceman Bandara steers Kingwood
- Federer voted BBC overseas sports personality of the year
- SLC looking to re-launch showpiece T20 league
- Astron wins again at SLIM NASCO 2017
- NDB brings Santa to the doorstep
- Com Bank opens branch No. 259 in Yatiyantota
- Amãna Takaful relocates Matale Branch
- Lotus Tyres rewards sales agents
- DFCC Bank sponsors 2017 Inter-School Golf Tournament
- Huawei announces Christmas promotion
- Elephant House recognized by Interbrand
- Singer (Sri Lanka) partners with Pan Asia Bank
- Disney deal suggests the Tax bill may mean little for the economy
- Commonwealth Bank admits failures in money laundering case
- Japanese business confidence hits 11-year high
- Eurozone economy to grow at faster rate, says Central Bank
- SEC to mandate dual roles for CEOs & Chairmen
- Alumex to commence EU & Aus exports
- Fiscal Policy Act remains toothless: Governor
- Samantha Rajapaksa gives up all AMW posts
- 'Publish excuses for corporate governance non-compliance'
- Jetwing Symphony IPO oversubscribed
- Shares recover from an 8-month low
- Christmas cheer is in the air!
- So, this is Christmas!
- A Time of Gifts Winding up
- Landmine deaths soar in 2016 With record number of child victims monitors
- Unravelling Nietzsche’s ‘death of God’ mystery
- Canada’s pivot to China hits a snag
- Brexit: The UK’s four options
- When the heart calls out, on a starry night
- On eve of climate summit Macron reminds Trump of ‘responsibility to history’
- FGM/FGC Victims speak out
- Wigneswaran sowing seeds of communalism
- SLFP supports devolution of power – Lasantha Alagiyawanna
- If Bond scammers are not prosecuted…President will lose his credibility –Bandula Gunawardena
- All information security issues are not cyber crimes
- We want a change in Muslim representation– Hasen Ali
- Blessed are the peacemakers
- Disinformation campaigns and public mistrust
- Alleged human rights violations Lord Naseby defends Sri Lanka
- Neecha Dosha of planets and how it is cancelled Neechabhanga Rajayoga
- Vastu defects and bathrooms
- Are you endowed with Pancha Maha PurushaYoga?
- God Aiyanayake: Guardian Deity of Jungle and Village
- Good thoughts eliminate bad planetary influence
- The Disaster Artist: The (un)making of a movie
- Our children and our cinema
- INTERPRETING ASIAN CINEMA: CHALLENGES AHEAD
- How Sanskrit journalism is slowly hogging headlines
- ice manufacturing in South Asia
- CMSC’s season finale concert
- Two documentaries on Sri Lanka in Film South Asia 2017
- Politics of nostalgia
- Kite Surfing Lanka Kalpitiya An experience of a lifetime
- Ella and mini Adam’s Peak
- A cave of history -Ravana Cave
- Silvia Senanayake Dazzles at Mrs. Asia International
- Let’s Taco Colombo
- THE WRITER’S KITCHENNETTE MULLED WINE
- Hunger gnaws at Rohingya Children in camps
- Defeating IS Russia has ‘accomplished’ task
- Saudi Princess Ameera Aidan fights sex exploitation
- Hacking into the gate
- Review: A Bad Moms Christmas Relatable holiday humour
- A must watch superhero film!