Fake rhino horn ‘not a good idea’

Experts reject plan to flood market with bioengineered product to halt poaching

A plan to flood the black market with synthetic rhino horn as a means to stop poaching has raised eyebrows in conservation circles at home and overseas. Internationally, a petition to stop the sale of biologically engineered horn was started by WildAid and the Centre for Biological Diversity earlier this year.

San Francisco start-up company Pembient Bioengineered Wildlife Products has developed a 3D rhino horn and hopes to put paid to the illegal wildlife trade by reproducing animal products in the lab.

The aim is to produce rhino horn biologically similar to natural horn, at a fraction of black market costs, that it hopes buyers will use instead of resorting to poaching.

Pembient, according to international reports, uses keratin and rhino DNA to produce a dried powder which is 3D-printed to look similar to original horn.

Pembient chief executive Matthew Markus said the company would undercut poachers in pricing and force them out of the market.

However, Eastern Cape wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds said that although the intention was good, the product could have the re- verse effect on the black market. “It is not a good idea,” Fowlds said. “If anything, it could broaden the consumer base as many people would believe it was now OK to buy rhino horn.

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