The Current

Biotech company creates synthetic 3D rhino horns to curb poaching

The high demand of rhinoceros horns has created a poaching epidemic, leaving rhinos to bleed to death after its horns are cut off. A biotech start-up hopes to flood the market with DNA-exact synthetic rhino horns. Will it save the species or backfire?
Dehorned rhinos are seen at the Kruger national park in Mpumalanga province. The rhinos were dehorned to prevent poaching. (REUTERS/Ilya Kachaev)

The rhinoceros horn is a precious commodity in some parts of Asia -- worth more than its weight in gold, at up to $100,000 per kilo. And it's those kind of prices that are leading to unprecedented levels of rhinoceros poaching in countries such as South Africa.

The species is on the brink, with fears that the rhinoceros could become extinct. The high price of genuine rhino horn also means that fake rhino products, like water buffalo horns, are becoming more common on the black market -- leading some buyers and sellers to test their product's DNA.

A ranger shows part of a rhino horn after a rhino was dehorned at the Kruger national park. ( REUTERS/Ilya Kachaev)

Now an American bio-technology company believes it may have a solution. Seattle-based Pembient is creating a synthetic rhinoceros horn... one so close to the real thing, it can pass a DNA test.

Matthew Markus is the CEO of Pembient. We reached him in Las Vegas.  

Biotech intervention may be the latest tool in the fight against poaching, but it's a battle that's been waged for a long time now.

Susie Ellis is the executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, an organization dedicated to the survival of the world's rhino species. We reached her in Strasburg, Virginia.    

Steven Broad is the executive director of TRAFFIC -- a wildlife trade monitoring network which works in close co-operation with the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. He joined us from Cambridge, England.  

This segment was produced by The Current's Leif Zapf-Gilje and Daisy Xiong.