3D Printed Rhino Horns.

When talking about designing for the fringe I generally write about disenfranchised humans, but there are also disenfranchised groups all over the animal kingdom.

Consider the rhino, an endangered population. In 2013 there was a total rhino species population of 28,8451,200 were poached in South Africa in 2014. The Irish Examiner estimates that 95 percent of the world’s rhino population has been lost to poaching in the last 40 years. Yikes!

The rhino is widely misunderstood in the animal kingdom. 

They're considered assholes.


Their horns are considered sacred in Traditional Chinese medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the horn, which is shaved or ground into a powder and dissolved in boiling water, is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. According to the 16th century Chinese pharmacist Li Shi Chen, the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.”
— PBS, Rhino horn use: Fact versus Fiction

This misunderstanding means the horns cost as much as gold on the black market. The dwindling populations, misunderstanding and exploitation firmly puts them in the fringe of the animal kingdom. 


Oh Rhino, my hero

Besides being adorably huge, these animals provide a unique role in the animal kingdom: they're the original firefighter. (I submit an over-the-top promotional video about the rhino's firefighting habits.)


3D Printing to save the rhinos?

I'm enthralled by 3D printing (3D printed arms, food) and was thrilled to read about a company who is designing with the rhino in mind. Pembient is 3D printing rhino horns. They exist to 3D print animal products like rhino horns and elephant ivory to reduce poaching.

Since rhino horns are essentially keratin, Pembient can 3D print a product that is virtually indistinguishable from a horn poached from a rhino.  

Animal conservationists believe replacing natural horns with 3D printed horns is futile. They'd rather reduce consumer demand for a rhino-horn product than introduce another product into the market which may make it harder for them to track down real poachers. 


Changing Perceptions

I applaud Pembient's efforts and believe they can tackle the problem if they look at it from many angles. 

  1. The people who are currently poaching are poaching for money. Where they get their income will have to be considered if we want them to stop poaching.
  2. If people erroneously believe the horn has medicinal properties, they may not believe the 3D printed version has those same properties. Messaging and folklore will have to be tackled so purchasers will not be concerned about the authenticity of the horns (which would drive the price of the real horns even higher).
  3. They'll need to work with leaders who can influence the people who believe the rhino horn is a cure-all. It will be hard to tackle legends that are a few centuries old, but it's worth the effort.