By Jm.d/Creative Commons/3.0
By Jm.d/Creative Commons/3.0

A new 3D printing technology might be able to rewrite the story of one of the world’s most endangered creatures, the rhinoceros.

The Pembient company has been able to reproduce the rhino horn, which is prized on the black market for its medicinal and cosmetic value, and is hoping to put rhino poachers out of business.

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Last year, 1,215 rhinos were poached — or one rhino every eight hours. Wildlife experts think the entire range of rhino species could be extinct in five to ten years. Rhino horns are especially valuable in Asian countries, where they are a status symbol and the horns are used in various traditional remedies. The horns sell for $30,000 a pound, more expensive than cocaine and even gold.

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Amazingly, the new technology recreates horns that are exactly like the real thing, indistinguishable in lab and genetic tests. They use the same keratin proteins, inorganics, metal, minerals, and actual rhino DNA to achieve their results.

Some wildlife experts are skeptical about the replicated horns, thinking that it will only make it harder to catch the poachers who are selling the real horns illegally. The horns are so valuable that poachers in developing countries can feed their family for a year after selling just one, so distributing the faux horns into the end-user market might not stop the slaughter.

Pembient founders are hoping that if they instead sell the horns (which cost just one-tenth of the price to reproduce in the lab) to would-be poachers, that they can help them still make a profit and save the rhinos and their precious snouts.