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Biotech

Video Help Save Endangered Rhinos by Making Artificial Horns (Video) 202

Black Rhinoceros horn material sells for $65,000 per kilo. The rhinos are rare, which helps up the price, but the horn is also prized "as a fever-reducer, a cosmetic, an aphrodisiac, a hangover care. And so people highly value it in the Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. So we are trying to reduce that value by increasing the supply," says Jennifer Kaehms of Pembient, a company that's working to make artificial rhino horns that are not only chemically indistinguishable from the natural variety, but are 3-D printed to look the same. The idea is that if they can flood the market with human-made rhino horns, it will cut poaching -- which is a big deal because there are only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the whole world.

They have a crowdfunding appeal on experiment.com looking for help in sequencing the black rhino genome. At this writing, it has two days to run and has only raised $12,831 of its $16,500 goal. The results will be open sourced, and once the black rhino is on its way to salvation, they plan to work on the white rhino, then move on to killing the black market for ivory and tiger pelts, which don't sell for as much as rhino horns but are valuable enough to keep an international horde of poachers in business.
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Help Save Endangered Rhinos by Making Artificial Horns (Video)

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  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @04:48PM (#50077825) Journal
    It's not the chemical makeup of rhino horn that makes it valuable to people, it's the 'mystical' properties of it. It's pure superstition.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 09, 2015 @04:54PM (#50077857)

      Which is why they're not selling it as a rhino horn alternative. They appear to be going out of their way to make people believe it IS rhino horn, so all the mystical BS that people attach to it isn't removed from the equation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But if they can flood the markets with indistinguishable counterfeits, that should drop the price enough that actually going to Africa to shoot rhinos and smuggling the horns back is no longer a profitable exercise.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @05:04PM (#50077927) Journal

        And if the people selling the Rhino horns think they can fake them and still sell them then they obviously will - far more profit.

        • Doesn't really matter, if they can sell the fake one as real it still means one less dead Rhino.

          Yes, a fool will be out of money. But then again, whether he wastes it on Rhino horn, healing crystals, televangelists or bach flowers, it's just that some other quack doesn't get the money, it's not like he would have saved it.

          • Yes, a fool will be out of money. But then again, whether he wastes it on Rhino horn, healing crystals, televangelists or bach flowers

            Or stock (in Chinese companies) that he's not allowed to sell... :p

      • Nobody sane "goes to Africa" to get their own supply of rhino horn. There's a well-established black market into which end users tap, and locally-based poachers supply. And every pair of hands along the way ramps up the price. If it's a factor of 2 every step of the way (typical for markets), then a poacher 10 steps from the end market may only receive a few hundred dollars for shooting a rhino and hacking off the horn.

        The object of this exercise is to wreck "trust" at each stage of the pipeline, to the po

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't need to be chemically identical. In fact it would be better if it wasn't. Sell a mixture of baby powder, wheat germ, ground up horse hooves and add some Viagra, a little vitamin B and maybe an anti-depressant and suddenly the "fake" is more effective than the "real".

      • There's already fake rhino horn powder like that, the people who pay the big money test the product to ensure they're actually buying rhino horn. By being indistinguishable they flood the top end market with fakes and the price drops because no one can tell when they're getting a fake and when they're getting the real thing.

      • Also add in some powdered amanita phalloides. Just for flavor. Superstitious people striving for special animal rarities deserve a treat.

    • It's not the chemical makeup of rhino horn that makes it valuable to people, it's the 'mystical' properties of it. It's pure superstition.

      Superstition (and to an extent, religion, but that's a lot more complicated) is just obsessive-compulsive disorder by another name. Replacement therapy is one possible treatment of the most destructive aspects of OCD. If they can replace the obsession, maybe they can deal with one of the worst symptoms (poaching, in this case).

    • And that's just one of the issues.

      The bigger issue is going to be: how are they going to inject it into the existing market, and be able to pass it off as the real thing? There are only a couple thousand black rhinos left, so there can't be more than a couple hundred genuine horns in the market per year. Now these guys want to try and flood that market with thousands of horns, and think they can make the buyers believe they can supply thousands of horns? Good luck with that!

      This is an illegal market so the

      • If I were them, I'd be very afraid of being targeted for assassination over this plan of theirs. There's a lot of money involved in this, more than enough for the real criminals to want someone dead over if they're ruining the market for them.
  • by IMightB ( 533307 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @04:53PM (#50077847) Journal

    Won't flooding the market with cheap knockoff's only increase the value and desirability of the real deal?

    • Re:Cheap Knockoffs (Score:4, Insightful)

      by QilessQi ( 2044624 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @04:57PM (#50077875)

      The point is that no one will be able to tell which is which. It's the same idea as destabilizing an economy by flooding the market with high-quality counterfeit bills.

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        The point is that no one will be able to tell which is which. It's the same idea as destabilizing an economy by flooding the market with high-quality counterfeit bills.

        Sure, but if they flood the market and the horns become more popular and more available (even if they are fake), it's not going to drop the price to zero, it will just increase overall demand. I suspect that even if the price dropped precipitously from $65K/kg to $1K/kg, there would still be people willing to kill rhinos for the real thing.

        Maybe they'd be better off tranquilizing the real rhinos, removing their horns, and replacing them with 3d printed fakes (that are a different color or have some other ch

        • Re:Cheap Knockoffs (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @05:39PM (#50078171)

          There have been efforts to cut off the horns in the past (no need to replace them with a fake, 3D printed or otherwise because it's mostly for display). The problem is that poachers don't shoot rhinos that are running around loose; they use snares or traps that kill indiscriminately, whether the horn has already been removed or not.

          The best solution is to cut the market price. By flooding the market with knock-offs the price will drop enough that it won't be worth the effort and risk to kill a rhino for its horn. And maybe (maybe) idiots will stop buying it because they know that what they're buying is almost certainly fake. A poacher in Africa would know he has the real thing, but by the time it gets to Asia everyone will claim to be selling the real thing, even though most will be fake.

          • Killing a rhino (with or without horn) reduces the supply, making the existing horns more rare and driving up prices even more.
    • The rumor I heard is that the horns contain not only keratin [wikipedia.org], but also some deposits of testosterone (and probably other minerals and body chemicals). I say rumor as I have no way of verifying this. However, deer antler velvet (if you want to google it) seems to be a popular fad amongst some bodybuilders and other athletes, as well as in traditional Chinese medicine.

      My point: There MAY in fact be some truth to the medicinal effects attributed to rhino horn due to well-known biochemistry - it is just not kn

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @04:53PM (#50077849)

    How about teaching backwoods-asshole Chinese and Vietnamese that not every rare animal part will make their dick harder or bigger?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How about teaching backwoods-asshole Chinese and Vietnamese that not every rare animal part will make their dick harder or bigger?

      That would be easier than teaching whitetrash-asshole in America that climate change is real?

    • How about teaching backwoods-asshole Chinese and Vietnamese that not every rare animal part will make their dick harder or bigger?

      I think they're trying to make themselves hornier.

    • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

      Well, given the success in teaching Americans that guns don't make their dick harder or bigger, how well do you think this would work?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wouldn't that be the easy solution to the buyers of poached horn?

  • Prepare to harvest the lower horn!

  • At 65k per kilo (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @04:58PM (#50077883)

    It should self fund.

    • And if they plan on selling thousands, backers should get shares in the company.

      • Or use the money they get to dump even more of the things on the market until the entire market collapses. You wouldn't want this thing to be for-profit, as this would encourage them to not kill the market and keep the rhino horn black market going.

        • So keep it going?

          It's unlikely that they will bring the price down. As soon as word gets out that "fake" horn exists, people will deliberately go out of their way to buy the expensive stuff, thinking that the cheap one is almost certainly fake (because who can sell the real deal for that price?). So to have an impact, they'd have to start selling at the same price as the poachers.

          Over time the price might fall a little, but I doubt it will drop considerably. What they can achieve, though, is that despite th

    • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

      And why would anyone bother selling real Rhino horn when they could just print one cheap and sell that instead.

  • Privatize them (Score:5, Interesting)

    by paulpach ( 798828 ) on Thursday July 09, 2015 @05:00PM (#50077893)

    In 1900 there were less than 20 white rhinos left due to poaching for their horns. In 2010 there were 20,000. This success was accomplished by privatizing the white rhinos [perc.org].

    Today, the black rhinos face the exact same threat, and we don't know what to do?!? Is this a racist thing (lol) ?

    In case you are wondering why this worked: If I own the last 20 white rhinos, they are worth a fortune. I have a tremendous economic incentive to protect them from poaching and reproduce them. Eventually as their population grows, I might be able to sell some for profit and the new owners would also have the incentive to protect and reproduce theirs. As supply grows, the value of an individual rhino drops and eventually it might be economical to sell them to hunters. If there are too many rhinos the free market would hunt them, and if there are too few the free market would protect them, keeping a stable and sustainable population. This is why any animal we can own (chickens, pigs, cows, horses, dogs, etc...) are not in any danger of extinction.

    • <protest>Black horns matter!</protest>

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

      In case you are wondering why this worked: If I own the last 20 white rhinos, they are worth a fortune. I have a tremendous economic incentive to protect them from poaching and reproduce them.

      But what is your economic incentive to grow the population if you have the last 20? Wouldn't you maximize their value by keeping their numbers down?

      Let's assume for the sake of argument that the curative effects of rhino horn are purely fictional (thought I suspect a rhino horn might give you an erection if you stick

      • Wouldn't you maximize their value by keeping their numbers down?

        Yes, but why would the owner of a herd of rhinos want to maximize the value of an individual rhino?

        Think.

        Do you think that farmers try to maximize the value of an individual ear of corn?

        • Yes, but why would the owner of a herd of rhinos want to maximize the value of an individual rhino?

          We're talking magic here. When you're selling magical properties, rarity is a selling point. If everyone on my block can now get the magic rhino horn, it's worth less to me (assuming I believe in rhino horn's magical effectiveness in treating erectile dysfunction).

          Do you think that farmers try to maximize the value of an individual ear of corn?

          Ears of corn don't have magical properties. They have an actual

          • Zero chance that you will ever run a successful business. Your ideas are insane. They dont make any sense for any reason other than hand-waving.

            Businesses try to maximize total profit you ignorant donkey.
            • Zero chance that you will ever run a successful business. Your ideas are insane. They dont make any sense for any reason other than hand-waving.

              Businesses try to maximize total profit you ignorant donkey.

              You're right. That's why things like "Limited Edition" don't exist. Why there's no such thing as "supply/demand" curves.

              I guess I'll leave the rhino horn business to successful entrepreneurs like you.

    • Privatization? WTF are you talking about?

      The white Rhino was saved by the establishment of the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park [wikipedia.org]. The last 20 Rhinos were not privately owned, but protected by the state.

      Had they been privately owned, they would almost certainly now be extinct. The idea that private enterprise would conserve and endangered animal for some far off future benefit when it is generally incapable of seeing past the next quarter is not just stupid, but dangerous.

      • That would certainly explain the extinction of chickens, cows, and pigs.

      • The U.S. military slaughtered bison [wikipedia.org] to control native populations. Small herds were kept and bred by private ranchers [wikipedia.org] to save the species from extinction.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I think they are talking about the results of that group. They sent off the white rhinos into other areas and established a breeding program (as far as I recall). Some of that was done in private parks which operated for profit. I think that may be where they are getting this "information."

      • The privatization of the herds has been well documented and is a very interesting success story. I've seen at least 2 documentaries on it.
        http://www.smithsonianmag.com/... [smithsonianmag.com]

        Basically, if you're a big game hunter, there's not much left to hunt. So people raise the Rhinos on farms and then sell them for hunting or whatever... They sell for tens of thousands of dollars, far more than their horns are worth, so you can rest assured the farmers protect them ferociously.

        The problem with this approach is that a lot o

    • I dunno. Maybe economists in the 1900s were smarter than today, but today I'd fully expect a manager to slaughter them all to make his quarter report look great, cash in his bonus and bail.

    • If I own the last 20 white rhinos, they are worth a fortune. I have a tremendous economic incentive to protect them from poaching and reproduce them. Eventually as their population grows, I might be able to sell some for profit and the new owners would also have the incentive to protect and reproduce theirs. As supply grows, the value of an individual rhino drops and eventually it might be economical to sell them to hunters. If there are too many rhinos the free market would hunt them, and if there are too few the free market would protect them, keeping a stable and sustainable population. This is why any animal we can own (chickens, pigs, cows, horses, dogs, etc...) are not in any danger of extinction.

      Rhinos only have economic value, as described, if you can sell them (to hunters, traditional chinese medicinemen, Kenya Fried Rhino restaurants, whatever). Having people look at them only brings in so much and wildlife tourism establishments seem perpetually low on funds.

  • 1. So far as I understand the horns are being ground down mostly for chinese penis pills or something. So... printing the horns is pointless.

    2.Even if the horns are ornamental, the real deal will fetch a higher price.

    3. Clearly there are already established manufactuering methods for making horns that are cheaper and give a better finished product using less expensive manufacturing equipment.

    4. The actual way you protect the Rhinos is by giving the people in the area OWNERSHIP of the Rhinos. This has been d

    • "...chemically indistinguishable from the natural variety, but are 3-D printed to look the same. The idea is that if they can flood the market with human-made rhino horns, it will cut poaching"

      how exactly are the buyers going to know whether it's genuine horn or counterfeit? the point is to lie and sell these as real, thus dropping the price considerably.

      • Good luck with that. If you really think they can't tell then I've got a bridge to sell you.

        • by Ionized ( 170001 )

          can a highly advanced, well funded laboratory tell the difference? probably.

          can the seedy vendors and back alley thugs that sell this stuff? or the superstitious clients buying it? seems less likely.

          in fact, why would the sellers even care? as long as the buyers can't tell the difference, the sellers will happily sell fake stuff, even knowingly.

    • by bledri ( 1283728 )

      1. So far as I understand the horns are being ground down mostly for chinese penis pills or something. So... printing the horns is pointless.

      2.Even if the horns are ornamental, the real deal will fetch a higher price.

      3. Clearly there are already established manufactuering methods for making horns that are cheaper and give a better finished product using less expensive manufacturing equipment.

      4. The actual way you protect the Rhinos is by giving the people in the area OWNERSHIP of the Rhinos. This has been done in a few other places and the poaching stops if the local people literally own the animal. They don't put it in a cage or something. But it is on their land and they understand that they own it. And in addition to that they are owed a share of any safari money or whatever comes from tourism or scientific whatever in the area. You enter my zone... I have responsibility for X animals there are Y total animals... X is some ratio of Y... when you come to the area for a safari I get a proportional share of that money. Then you have people come out and audit how many of the animals are still alive and on the property. The locals are thus rewarded proportionately for how many of these animals live in their area. This has been done in a few places and it always works. The local governments don't like to do this because they want the money. But then they spend a lot of it on anti poaching police that don't actually work because the locals live with these animals and if they want money they just either go out themselves and kill the animal or get paid to turn a blind eye by some poachers. If the locals are getting paid to keep the animals alive the poaching stops.

      This is a dumb project for clueless 1st world idiots that makes them think they're accomplishing something by playing with their toys.

      I'd be sorry for being harsh if I weren't even more disgusted at the fucking stupidity.

      Come kids... we didn't build these big rich ass countries by being morons. Be practical or we're going to lose it all.

      Whoosh! If it's hard to distinguish fake horns from real ones, then people will be motivated to pass off the fake ones as real. Making them look like horns ensures they are inserted into the bottom of the supply chain. This will hopefully flood the market and shake consumer confidence, both of which will drive the price down. Yes, people will be willing to pay more for "real" horn, fortunately a lot of people will be willing to lie and say that fake horns are real, or that they are selling "real" powder

      • How long do you think it will take before the buyers start insisting that something extra be attached to the horn?... like part of the skull? Maybe a little dried flesh and some blood?

        In a market floodeded with fakes, the poachers will have an incentive to demonstrate they have the real thing.

        I am pulling fool proof ways to show you have a REAL horn out of my ass. Your master plan is not as clever as you think it is.

  • Either:
    1) The artificial rhino horn has no more real benefit than the real one: Ignorant chinese masses will never question their long held beliefs so will just conclude the artificial horn doesn't work as well as the real one so demand for real rhino horn (and poaching) increases.
    or...
    they make an artificial rhino horn that has more (i.e. actually has some) benefit than the real one because they also included actual drugs in the mix. Ignorant chinese masses have their dumb belief that rhino horn actually

  • I have a better idea: just kickstart generic sildenafil production in some country that doesn't observe American patents. Pfizer's patent on the magic substance would have normally expired in April, 2012, but keeps getting extended due to the usual cronyist skulduggery. It would serve them right, and save the rhino, if some Asian Walter White would start manufacturing it for global consumption.

  • Back in the 80ies they were trying a better thing: Tranquilizing Rinos and replacing their horns with artificial ones made of red plastic. The Rinos don't care - they're colorblind and probably like a new horn thats bigger and sturdier than the original. But the poachers won't kill a rino for plastic. Neat idea - why didn't that pan out .- apparently?

  • I mean, artificial diamonds hasn't killed the market for natural diamonds.
    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Artificial diamonds hasn't killed the market for natural diamonds because natural diamonds are cheaper to come by for the distributors than artificial diamonds actually cost to make. They only cost so much because people will pay that much for them.
  • What I don't get is this: If Rhino Horn powder is such a big deal with so many idiots - why hasn't anybody started breeding them? Sounds like a license to print money to me. Clearly some african nation must've thought of that, no? ... And you can take a Rhinos horn *without* killing it.

    • 1. It's illegal to keep a endangered animal captive.
      2. They don't breed well in captivity.
      3. Keeping them alive costs a fortune.
      4. Selling their horns is, again, illegal.
      5. They don't want to create a market for the thing they don't want people to use.
      6. If selling farmed horn is legal, distinguishing between it, and illegal horn, would be impossible.

    • John Hume does this in South Africa. He's got 800 - 1000 rhinos that he's bred in captivity. They're all de-horned by a process that doesn't hurt the animals as the horns get large enough to harvest. He's got a huge stockpile of sustainably harvested rhino horn, and nobody will let him legally sell any of it. It's idiotic. Of course, if they let these people sell manufactured horn and they don't let him sell his farmed horn, that'll be even more idiotic.
  • Rhino horn is expensive because so many people are superstitious. End the market by setting the death penalty on buying rhino horn. Then you con't have to make artificial rhino horn.

  • So they would be allowed to fraud people with impunity? Their cause is good... but allowing them to commit a crime because they are the "good" criminals?

  • I've been wondering why someone hasn't done this yet. They are 95% the way there... the only part they are missing is LYING. Tell them it's REAL black Rhino horn. Flood the market with FAKE horn and call it real. Bring the price down to pennies... i.e. killing a Rhino would not make you more than the price of the bullet. Then the poaching will stop.

  • Anecdotal evidence, I know, but I've heard from a friends who has been living in mainland China for a few years now. This topic on rhino horns has apparently come up a few times.

    This is one of those cases where having a public awareness campaign in China might actually help.

    The issue: Lots of chinese believe that getting a rhino horn doesn't involve killing the rhino. They believe you can just pick them up from the ground - that they work like elk/deer/moose horns that drops away from the head every now and

  • It may have real effects - and it retails for about the same price. Ophiocordyceps sinensis [wikipedia.org]

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