Researchers at Fudan University in China and the University of Oxford have found a way of making fake rhino horns from horsehair economically.
Plenty of ideas have come up for the fake horn, but this project needs a convincing version that would be cost-effective for mass production, hence the horsehair version.
Scientists claim the horn of a rhino is not like the cow’s horn. It’s formed from tufts of tightly packed hair that are glued together by secretions from the animal. The scientists have made the reproduction out of horsehair. They maintain it is indistinguishable from the rhino horn. It feels and looks like an actual rhino horn.
Horns made with horsehair that look genuine under a microscope could assist in lowering the prices of illegal horns.
This joint Chinese and UK project is one of the latest attempts at finding ways of making an artificial horn that is realistic enough. The idea is to inundate the market with fake horns and weaken the monetary motivations for the smugglers and poachers.
Prof Fritz Vollrath, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, hopes the technique used will confuse the trade, depress prices and thus support rhino conservation.
However, not everyone is optimistic about it. A spokesperson for Save, the Rhino International group issued caution that by introducing this type of product into the market place, it could have consequences. It could stir up the demand for real rhino horns.
The conservation charity feels it would be more important to focus on anti-poaching strategies and to reduce consumer demand.
Deputy director John Taylor doubts that the artificial horns are convincing to fool the intelligent buyers, especially since rhino horns are very popular for the use of traditional Chinese medicine, as it is considered an aphrodisiac.
Dr. Richard Thomas from The Wildlife Organisation Traffic feels that pumping a synthetic alternative into the market could assist in reinforcing the perception that the rhino horn is a sought-after commodity, thus continuing the current demand. It could also stimulate the need for the real thing, intensifying the existing situation.
Thomas added that another problem was that unlabelled fake horn might bring legal and enforcement challenges – although Vollrath said experts would be able to spot the fake.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the horn not only prescribed as an aphrodisiac, but it has also been used to treat fever, gout, rheumatism amongst other disorders.
Other facts In South Africa, an estimated 760 rhinos got poached in 2018, as well as attempts to steal the rhino horns from museums in Europe.