Rhinos are an unfortunate species because of the high demand for their horns. South African Department of Environmental Affairs reports that, just in 2014, there have been 1215 cases of rhinos poached for their horns, unfortunately the high number record of the new millennium so far. Pembient, a West Coast startup, might have a solution to help end poaching with its lab-grown rhino horn project.
The company, led by biologists Matthew Markus and George Bonaci, claims to have already produced a powder that resembles to the rhino horn. The next step of the project is to grow a full-sized horn, including other components to the mix, such as rhino DNA.
In China and Southeast Asia, rhino horn is a status symbol and a popular ingredient in folk remedies, believed able to cure even cancer. This makes rhino horns a highly precious item, worth €68,000 a kilo. Rhino horn is so precious that authorities are asking museums to replace their horn collections with replicas in order to prevent theft. The popularity of their horns puts rhinos in extreme risk of being endangered. White rhinos, a subspecies, have only five remaining members in the world.
An expert from Wildlife Conservation Society, Kent Redford, says that he appreciates the effort but suspects that there might be downsides to the project. Redford thinks that the presence of faux horns might make authentic horns even more popular, a case that happened with bones of wild tigers versus those of the ones raised in captivity.
Markus states that their research is taking the point raised by Redford into account by researching the market closely. “We don't think this will be a silver bullet, we think it's a leg of a triangle to reverse a trend in poaching. You have law enforcement, you have a demand reduction strategy, and now we could be this alternative supply leg that's been absent” Markus says.