Artificial Rhino Horns to Tackle Rhino Poaching

A group of scientists from Fudan University (Shangai), and the University of Oxford have just managed to create an artificial rhino horn in the lab1. Through their creation, the authors hope to mitigate the issue of rhino poaching, which is driving African rhino populations to extinction.

The group fabricated the artificial horn by gluing together a bundle of horse tail hair, using a silk-based glue formula. Their creation worked because the rhino horn is not an horn in the traditional sense (e.g., the horn of a cow), but rather, it is a tuft of hair which grows tightly packed, glued together by the secretions of glands located on the rhino’s nose. Furthermore, horse hair has a similar size, shape and structure to rhino horn hair, which allows for accurate replicas.

“Images of cross-section of a real rhino horn (A,C) and an artificial horn (B,D). […] the hair filament density of [the] artificial rhino horn is about 9 mm−2, which is close to that (7 mm−2) of real horns”. Figure and description credits1

In their paper1, published on November 8, 2019 in Scientific Reports, the authors write: “both horns showed comparable thermal stability […] [and] very similar infrared spectra, which would make it rather difficult (and with a little tweaking perhaps even impossible) to distinguish the artificial horn from its rhino model using a handheld spectrometer”.

In a statement released to the University of Oxford, co-author Professor Fritz Vollrath said: “it appears from our investigation that it is rather easy as well as cheap to make a bio-inspired hornlike material that mimics the rhino’s extravagantly expensive tuft of nose hair. We leave it to others to develop this technology further with the aim to confuse the trade, depress prices and thus support rhino conservation”2.

In traditional medicine, rhino horn is believed to have many benefits, though there is no scientific evidence to support such claims. Business elites also often purchase rhino horns as a status symbol3.

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  1. Mi, R., Shao, Z.Z. and Vollrath, F., 2019. Creating artificial Rhino Horns from Horse Hair. Scientific Reports9(1), pp.1-6

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