Researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai and the University of Oxford have developed fake rhinoceros from horsehair, paving the way for realistic counterfeits that can flood the Horn Market. Fake animal horn is a common method to lower prices and market demand and reduce the incentive for poachers to illegally hunt wild animals.
Rhino populations in the wild are declining, largely due to poaching triggered by the demand for horn on the black market. The disruption of this market is the most effective way to stem poaching. However, this requires highly realistic forgeries that are difficult to detect. This creates uncertainties for buyers who may not be prepared to pay a high price for potentially counterfeit products.
Oxford researchers find that the rhino is actually not a horn, at least not in the normal sense of the word. Rather, the horn consists of hair, which form together due to the sebaceous glands and essentially form a "horn". Horses are the next living relatives of the rhino and thus the ideal source for hair, from which the false horns arise.
Researchers describe their project as a "proof of concept" using a "tailor-made matrix of regenerated silk" to tie ponytail hair together. In this way, essentially the "collagen component" contained in actual rhino horns is mimicked. The result is a fake "rhino horn" that is difficult to distinguish from the actual component.
The key to counterfeiting is the relatively simple structure, which keeps costs and effort low. Cut pieces of the artificial horn can be polished, keeping what the researchers say a "remarkably similar" look to the original. In order to bring these horns to market, others have to deal with the technology to produce the products in series.