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Earth Science Technology Build

3D Printing Might Save the Rhinoceros 163

GordonShure.com writes: San Francisco based biotech startup Pembient have released details of their 3D printing led method to derail the market for Rhinoceros horns. Presently the bulk of demand originates from China, where said horns — gathered in the wild by poachers who usually kill the rhinos — are revered for supposed medicinal qualities. The new firm intends to mix keratin with Rhino DNA, then machine the combination with a 3D printer in a way that their counterfeit horns are difficult to detect by customers and traffickers alike.

The company already mulls expanding its production principle to other, lucrative wild animal trades such as the claws of tigers and lions. Pembient is however a young company — for all their ingenuity, will their ambitions to take on such a colossal black market be realized?
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3D Printing Might Save the Rhinoceros

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  • by Digital Pizza ( 855175 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @01:25AM (#49959825)

    ... but considering the type of people they're going up against, I hope they don't end up wearing concrete boots.

    • I don't see the problem - the people they're up against will simply take the technology and start making their own rhino horn. After all, they understand profit more than most, so being able to make their own "honest guv, its real rhino, would I lie to you" 'medicine' without all the expense of paying some middleman poacher, you know they're going to go full-on in the fake rhino horn trade.

    • ... but considering the type of people they're going up against, I hope they don't end up wearing concrete boots.

      3D printed concrete boots of course :D

  • Conversely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by quenda ( 644621 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @01:29AM (#49959839)

    given so few wild rhinos are left, how about giving them all prosthetic horns, to reduce their value?
    It would still be a story, because you can use 3D printers for that too, if you really wanted to.

  • by hedgemage ( 934558 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @01:53AM (#49959927)
    Considering the market is being driven by very wealthy individuals who will pay any price for their boner pills, I would think that it wouldn't substantially change the price since these wealthy individuals could afford to pay a little extra to have certified 100% real rhino horn that's been lab tested. Unless the copies are so good that they will fool even experts, its not going to stop the trade. Sounds like a great way to make money off of the people who can't afford the real stuff, though!
    • Mix in random poisons.

      • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

        Are you suggesting poisoning people? That seems absurd.

        Also, what poisons? Keep in mind your poisons have to have a long enough life, penetrate the entire horn of a living creature without harming it (likely impossible), and in your BEST case scenario, end up hurting actual people. Plus the fact that, to be effective, the poisons would have to be unfilterable / unbindable, an unlikely situation.

        It's not just morally dubious, it's overall just evil. But unlike most evil plans, it doesn't help anyone, not

        • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @05:07AM (#49960451)

          "Keep in mind your poisons have to have a long enough life, penetrate the entire horn of a living creature without harming it (likely impossible),"

          Why? you'd just lace the horns once they've already been removed, or lace the fake ones and seed them into the market. It would only take a few casualties to massively drop demand.

          "and in your BEST case scenario, end up hurting actual people"

          Is this somehow worse than hurting actual rhinos? Is there some reason to class humans as a super species that have a greater right to exist than any others other than anthropomorphic arrogance?

          What about the people whose lives are taken by poachers? what about the people whose livelihoods are destroyed by poachers potentially resulting in their lives being taken? Are the lives of rich Chinese folks more important than everyone else?

          What about the fact that when poachers make a kill they often lace the animal carcass with poison so that the hundreds of vultures that descend on a fresh carcass are also wiped out because otherwise park rangers see the vulture swarm and know where the poachers are active? What about the people who are dying of disease because vulture populations have been decimated due to this practice meaning there are no vulture clean up flocks around in more populated areas any more to deal with decaying disease ridden carcasses of feral dogs and such that the vultures remove? Do those people not matter either?

          What about the people who have died due to conflict and terrorism funded by spoils from poaching? do those victims no matter either?

          I'm not advocating the GPs plan but I don't think it's as clear cut as you make out, certainly were that eventuality to occur, that given that the Chinese government wont do anything to quash the myth that rhino horn is magical, then if nothing else I'd have zero sympathy for the victims were this to happen- I'd rather have people like that suffer, than the people whose lives are taken, livelihoods are destroyed by poaching, or the poached animals themselves. Plenty of rangers and locals who have had the misfortune to run into poaching groups have also died because of these people, why should I care if something happened to the consumers at the other end? Their actions have killed enough people and animals.

          Make no mistake, demand for these horns from the people buying the product have enough blood on their hands, it's not a victimless crime, on the contrary, there are many, many victims so the people who consume and feed this trade becoming victims is actually a very much preferable alternative to the status quo. It's much better that people responsible for a problem suffer, than innocent bystanders.

          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

            "Is this somehow worse than hurting actual rhinos? Is there some reason to class humans as a super species that have a greater right to exist than any others other than anthropomorphic arrogance?"
            Yes because it is our species. Really any member of a species that does not put the survival of the other members of it's species over a different species is flawed from a biological viewpoint. A prey animal will not allow a starving predator to take another member of the herd just so predator can survive. A rhino

            • by Xest ( 935314 )

              "Yes because it is our species. Really any member of a species that does not put the survival of the other members of it's species over a different species is flawed from a biological viewpoint."

              That assumes you have a complete grasp of the global ecosystem, which we don't. We do know that biodiversity reduction can lead to population collapse that can in turn hurt us though.

              "A prey animal will not allow a starving predator to take another member of the herd just so predator can survive. A rhino will not wo

          • "and in your BEST case scenario, end up hurting actual people"

            Is this somehow worse than hurting actual rhinos? Is there some reason to class humans as a super species that have a greater right to exist than any others other than anthropomorphic arrogance?

            You can try to spin it however you want. The vast majority of the people on earth do in fact see humans as having a greater right to exist than other animals. If a rhino and person were caught on a see-saw contraption on a cliff where the process of

            • by Xest ( 935314 )

              "You can try to spin it however you want. The vast majority of the people on earth do in fact see humans as having a greater right to exist than other animals."

              I doesn't matter how I spin it, it doesn't mean it's right, whether it is or not is a wholly personal thing and doesn't make me any more wrong than someone that holds the opposite view. There's a fair argument backed by science though that allowing destruction of biodiversity only hurts us in the long run however.

              "The poachers are only hurting animal

        • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

          I'd put it something that both makes people puke their guts up and makes them unable to get it up (if such a thing exists).

          Immoral? No, it's punishment, no more immoral than prison.

        • by DrXym ( 126579 )
          I don't see it as evil. Paint the horn a danger colour to indicate it's poisoned and if anyone is fucking stupid enough to consume it, then they get what they deserve. No different than if they decided to imbibe any other poisonous plant or animal. As for the poison, I'm sure there are numerous options given that a horn is just keratin.
        • by flink ( 18449 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @08:14AM (#49960869)

          Are you suggesting poisoning people? That seems absurd.

          But we do it for other products. We poison industrial ethanol so the government doesn't tax it at the recreational rate. We spike opioid analgesics with non-therapeuticly high levels of acetaminophen to discourage recreational use. If we're willing to poison things that are sold legitimately, why wouldn't we poison something that is illegal? I'm not saying it wouldn't work for other reasons you cited, but we've already stepped over the line as a society of intentionally poisoning things to discourage their use.

  • Had this idea 2 decades ago (for ivory as well), probably not as sophisticated as this (no DNA tricks), but I actually hoped the invention of viagra - real boner meds - would have won over in the market. Stupidity and evil are so persistent.
    • Instead of Viagra, rhino horn's main function in traditional Chinese medicine is much more closer to Tylenol

      Rhino horn has never been used as aphrodisiacs in Chinese medicine

      As there are hundreds of other ingredients, vast majority of them plant based, such as barley or chrysanthemum, which work much better as fever reducer in traditional Chinese medicine, rhino horns are actually not needed at all

  • unworkable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @02:46AM (#49960075)

    Animal horns have intricate ordered microscopic structures that no 3D printer can reproduce, but that are easy to look for with a microscope.

    • So this would raise the cost of selling rhino horns by forcing buyers to have every piece checked, right? Not that I'm sure this is a great idea: If the horns are similar enough to pass for real horns in some meaningful sense, then won't it be easier to hide real horns among legal, fake horns?
  • Now if they just pass laws which make sure that if you can prove you are trafficing in *fake* rhino horn you are off the hook for fraud (and their aren't any trafficking laws) it should be possible to drive the market for rhino horns out of existence.

  • So if I understand correctly they are going to sell "medicine" that: 1. does not work 2. is not what it says on the bottle 3. is claimed to come from endangered animals So cheating is allowed now? I understand their good intentions, but everything about this is wrong. There are so many problems with this. Oh but wait, this is slashdot and it has "3D printing" in the title.
  • Poison the bastards (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrL0G1C ( 867445 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @05:46AM (#49960553) Journal

    are revered for supposed medicinal qualities

    Most materials will soak up another material of the right type afaik, so capture the rare rhino's and soak their horns in something poisonous.

    Make anyone using rhino horn medicinally puke their guts up for a month, that'll teach the fuckers.

    In fact, someone should take the confiscated rhino horn, poison them and then release them onto the market.

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      Sadly that probably is the only solution. But as soon as someone did it the usual bleeding hearts would crawl out from under their fetid rocks and be out on the streets protesting.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        But would they? To protest poisoning rhino horns is pretty much to support the people killing rhinos. I don't think the 'bleeding hearts' would protest much.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        Nobody complains that the ATF requires producers of (non beverage) ethanol to denature it and make all the hobos sick.

    • Yes, they already do that with ectoparasiticides and they're dyed pink. Once ground up, they can be identified at a boarder customs.

      http://www.snopes.com/photos/a... [snopes.com]

  • by Electricity Likes Me ( 1098643 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @06:01AM (#49960583)

    I'm curious how you'd actually inject these into the supply chain.

    At the minimum it seems like you'd need some undercover work, and to be really effective the best way would probably be to catch and turn some of the actual dealers. Conversely, I suppose it wouldn't take more then 1 or 2 deals-cut in order to seriously undermine and devalue the entire trade.

  • The reason people use these horns is not a medical (technical) issue. It is a social issue. You can not solve a social problem with a technical solution.

    It is like telling your future wife that the artificial diamond is identical to the blood diamond she wants. It doen't work that way.

  • Whatever simple test they could fool by simply "mixing in dna" would likely then be spoofable the other way too: a vendor caught selling rhino horn could tell the authorities either "oh no, it's synthetic actually" or at least he THOUGHT it was. ...because the people who buy rhino horn today aren't doing it to own something that's LIKE rhino horn; they either believe some goofy bullshit it about it making their dicks hard or for some mystical "I want to have something that's forbidden" reason - in either case, 'fake' rhino horn wouldn't cut it anyway, and there will still remain the market for real rhino horn.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @07:06AM (#49960703) Journal

    This will work about as well as synthetic diamonds (which are actual, real diamonds) have collapsed the natural diamond market and eliminated the horrific practices which surround natural diamond mines in under developed areas of the world.

    • Reading the comments, I've gone back and forth as to whether this would be effective and I think this about sums it up. There is demand for rhino horn and even if we flooded the market with fakes, people would know there are fakes and would demand the real thing. What would likely happen would be that any poorer folks would buy "cheap rhino horn" which is really the fake stuff being passed off as real. They might even know it is fake but wouldn't care as they wouldn't be able to afford the real stuff.

      Mea

      • For a group of really smart people, one has to question the knowledge base they chose for this given result.
  • Growing the market for rhino horn will only result in more poachers. Are the 3d printed horns going to be given to the poachers for free if they agree not to poach?
    • What!? Are you anti american? Sell the stuff to their competitors, which will force the average poacher to come over to buy from you, or go out of business.
  • The company already mulls expanding its production principle to other, lucrative wild animal trades such as the claws of tigers and lions. Pembient is however a young company â" for all their ingenuity, will their ambitions to take on such a colossal black market be realized?

    Are you crazy? Of course it will; the people who slaughter endangered animals like this aren't in it to provide their esteemed customers with a genuine article - they just want the money. They will jump at the opportunity to make a fast profit by cheating. Why endanger youself by poaching if you can just mix up some gunk in a printer?

    • People that buy this stuff may have a more sardonic solution to buying fake, even if its better and cheaper, than the real stuff; at real stuff prices.
  • Just breed hornless rhinos.
    • Time would be against this issue. Every business tries to pay short term liabilities with long term assets fails. Rinos take up more space than 3D printers. And when was the last time one herd of a 3D printer the size of a large freezer charging at a person?
  • Pembient may want to consider producing a variety of rhino horns. I mean, if they make thousands of copies of just one, you could just take a picture of it and compare the ones you get against the photo.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Monday June 22, 2015 @09:53AM (#49961471) Homepage
    Just sell powered horn. The majority of consumers don't do microscopic and/or dna tests. Just set up a shop in the right location, ship in a bunch of shredded antelope horn and label it Rhino horn. Have some guy in a white lab cloak stand by to swear it's the real deal.
    • I can think of something just as good, have the 3D printed product have a superior result using the same testing on 'natural' stuff. At a cheaper price, for a better procduct? Folks have a mass tendency to always purchase the cheaper product that is better. After a short while, who needs to even go out into the bush to deal with harvesting issues.
  • Will they be printing fake coffee beans that weren't pooped out of a Asian Palm Civet [wikipedia.org]?
  • So after all this complaining about how counterfeit food and medicine from china is morally repugnant, we decide to turn the tables...

    At least we are attempting to save the rhinos, I guess, but seems to me that it's a slippery slope to agree that flooding a market with counterfeit goods is actually a good idea...

    • Not flooding the markets with counterfeit goods, but with goods that have a known superior quality. It's like buying Tata's Nano car and paying more for it than for a new 3D printed Shelby Cobra that is an exact working copy. The will come when a Rino comes up to someones back yard to eat grass, and it will be shoed away.
  • Considering the advantages of filtering out the stuff that limits the usefulness of murdered animals, and offering a more refined product that is better than what nature can produce; the advantages are far greater than this colossal run on sentence.
  • Everyone knows the only real cure for those conditions is ground up poacher skull. And I heard dried and ground poacher penis cures the gay.

All extremists should be taken out and shot.

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