Conservation

Pembient was founded on a vision of a world without wildlife poaching. This vision led us to investigate the markets for shark fin, elephant ivory, and rhinoceros horn. We came to the conclusion that new ideas were needed to disrupt these markets. Our current approach to biofabricated horn arose from the lessons we learned during our interactions with the rhinoceros horn trade.

 
 

The Industry

The international trade in rhinoceros horn is technically illegal, but that has not stopped it. Poachers continue to harvest horn from the rhinos of South Africa. Much of it eventually ends up in the handicraft villages of Southeast Asia. There it is transformed into curios along with legal horn obtained from water buffalo, ox, and cow.


In Chinese media, rhino horn product acquisition was most frequently reported for investment and collectible value (75%), artistic value (40%), and medical value (29%). In contrast, western media alleged consumption of rhino horn in China was mostly for their medical value (84%).
— Gao et al. (2016, p. 343)

The Material

While all horn essentially consists of the same fibrous protein, not all horn is created equal. Rhinoceros horn (left) is solid. Other horns, like cow horn (right), are hollow. Artisans prize rhino horn because they can carve large objects out of it. Assembling such carvings out of fragments of cow horn is impossible, akin to sculpting a statue out of pebbles. Wealthy Chinese collectors, in turn, treasure sizable horn carvings because they are rare.


The availability of synthetic horns that are perfectly substitutable for wild horns and can be supplied at a lower cost will drive down horn prices and decrease the amount of wild horns in the market. This, of course, should benefit the rhino population.
— Chen (2017, p. 186)

Our Announcement

In 2015, news of our horn prototypes went viral. Concurrently, growth in rhino poaching rates stalled for the first time in nearly a decade. That year was particularly anomalous as rhino poaching arrests were down 18% while rhino horn seizures were up 26%, both factors that should have exacerbated poaching. By the end of 2016, a "savings" of over a thousand rhinos (blue area) had accumulated, some of which might be attributable to frightened speculators leaving the market ahead of an impending influx of questionable horn carvings.


The most-emphasised factor behind the decline in shark fin consumption in Beijing restaurants highlighted by managers and chefs was the preponderance of fake shark fins on the market. Selling synthetic shark fin is common in the restaurant market, with the result that consumers do not trust buying shark fin.
— Fabinyi & Liu (2014, p. 223)

 

References

Chen, F. (2017). The Economics of Synthetic Rhino Horns. Ecological Economics, 141, 180-189.

Fabinyi, M., & Liu, N. (2014). Seafood banquets in Beijing: consumer perspectives and implications for environmental sustainability. Conservation and Society, 12(2), 218.

Gao, Y., Stoner, K. J., Lee, A. T., & Clark, S. G. (2016). Rhino horn trade in China: An analysis of the art and antiques market. Biological Conservation, 201, 343-347.