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 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.
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.
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.
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.
We support the Black Rhino Genome Project.