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Rhinos are being hunted down in their thousands. So much so that in some regions where they naturally inhabited, they are either extinct or with a very frail population size. All because there are certain markets (especially in Asia) where their horns are used for medicinal purposes.

While there have been measures put in place by governments and other authorities to prevent rhino poaching and even punish the offenders. Somehow, poachers still find ways to kill the animals for their horns.

Save Rhinos by supplying the market with identical counterfeits

Now, a group of counterfeiters wants to use biotechnology to exploit the rhino’s DNA and come up with a manufactured synthetic replica of their horns. One such counterfeiter who promises almost an identical synthetic replica is a company by the name Pembient. Although their current counterfeit product is still work-in-progress, Pembient believes that in two years’ time they will have a synthetic rhino horn, which would not be easy to tell apart from the real horn from the animal.

Earlier this year, we produced low fidelity prototypes, they are solids, but they don’t have all the properties of rhino horn, and we are working now to produce these high-quality bio-identical solids, said Pembient CEO Matthew Markus while addressing the BBC. “The higher fidelity prototypes may take two years, and that’s unless all this flack scares investors off.”

The catch being, supplying counterfeit (fake rhino horns made in labs) to the market preferably at a lower price. That would naturally deter poachers from going through all the trouble of going hunting while evading the authorities. Not forgetting the expenses it takes to pull off such raids. The end results will be, there will be less or no poachers in the parks shooting and killing rhinos.

If this is an excellent innovation, what’s the problem then?

On the surface, it may look like the best idea ever to have been brought up in the fight of rhino conservations. However, critics argue, that if the technology promises counterfeits that cannot be told apart from the real deal. Then how will the anti-poaching authorities know if a contraband contains real rhino horns or the fake synthetic ones?

That will open an even bigger room for more poaching, as the authorities will be unable to tell who is the real poacher, and the trader trading in synthetic rhino horns. These reservations are the flaks Markus, the CEO of Pembient is talking about above.

When is a Government supported counterfeit, a good thing?

Markus argues, “This is an illicit market, these people are not supported by states, so here counterfeits especially if they are exactly the same should have a very disruptive effect. The only thing that guarantees that you are getting the product you think you are getting is the product itself, if you can destroy the uniqueness of that product through bio-fabrication, I think that’s a win.”

One critic Lee Henry from WWF counters the justification for, saying, “In traditional medicines, people prefer wild products, that’s seen as more valuable. They don’t want products from farms or synthetic markets.

For a species like rhino that are being decimated by poaching for their products, do we want to test this now? I think it’s too big a risk to take, history has shown that when you create alternative products it doesn’t reduce demand for the genuine article.”

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