Innovation That Matters

Two endangered rhinos | Photo source Simon Greenwood on Unsplash

Silk horns help conservationists protect rhinos from poachers


Faux horns made from silk and horsehair look and feel nearly identical to the natural original

Spotted: In an exciting collaboration between materials science and conservation, a team of researchers from the UK’s University of Oxford and Shanghai’s Fudan University have created a fake rhino horn that is nearly indistinguishable from a real one. The proof of concept has already survived thermal and infrared analysis, as well as mechanical tests. Using a simple and inexpensive combination of horsetail hairs glued together with regenerated silk, scientists have created an incredibly realistic fake. 

Rhinoceros horn is not really a horn or hard growth like hooves. It is a thick tuft of hair glued together by hardened excretions from the animal’s skin. Horsetail hair has the same tubular shape and a similar size to rhinoceros hair. When it is moulded together with a sticky, tough silk compound, it resembles very closely a natural horn. 

The team of scientists recently published their findings, with an exhortation to “fool punters into buying it in replacement or indeed in preference to the real, and extremely expensive, rhino horn”, which they aim to do by flooding the market with the fakes. With three of five rhino populations critically endangered and a fourth considered vulnerable, international trade policy is clearly not having much of an effect on poaching. Unconventional methods such as this easy-to-produce fake may prove more effective. 

Other conservation innovations spotted by Springwise include a virtual reality app that raises awareness of New Zealand’s native birds and safety devices that warn animals of potential human threat. 




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