The fact that Rhino horn was once more expensive than cocaine and was one of the most sought after substances in the world meant only one thing – the making of fake or artificial rhino horns springing up in the market. Rhino horn is not a horn (bone and muscle) but just a tuft of hair that is glued tightly by special exudates from the sebaceous glands present on the nose of the animal.
Did you know, Melanin is an interesting pigment that not only makes the shining black colour, but also ensures the structural integrity of the horn? So, the horn is not just a set of hairs combined, but is an embedded matrix material that may change the composition because of the exudate stored in the medullary cavity. Imagine a set of hairs that are held by a strong glue.
Due to the impractical demand of the rhino horn, many fake/artificial horns are made that look very similar to the real horn and also exhibit the same properties. Professor Fritz Vollrath, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology and his team of scientists bundled together tail hairs of the rhino’s near relative, the horse, and glued them together with a bespoke matrix of regenerated silk to mimic the collagenous component of the real horn. This approach allowed them to fabricate sample structures that was confusingly similar to real rhino horn in look, feel and properties. Analytical studies demonstrated similarities in composition and properties with natural and faux horns.
This entire experiment and research were to create fake look-alike to the rhino horn as that would mean you didn’t need to kill a rhino for the horn. By confusing the traders and the customers, the demand can be brought down, reducing the cost and eventually killing the business.
Professor Fritz Vollrath says, ‘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.’ If this helps in helping the poor animal, we can’t agree more.
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