Scientists create fake rhino horn from horsehair in a bid to save the species

Rhinos are often poached for their horn, which some buyers believe can cure health problems.

(CNN)Scientists have developed a fake rhino horn using horsehair, in a bid to create "credible fakes" to flood the market and reduce demand for the material.

Researchers from the University of Oxford created the synthetic horn by bundling horse hairs, gluing them together with a matrix of regenerated silk to mimic the collagenous properties of authentic rhino horn.
Rhinos are often poached for their horn, which buyers believe can cure health problems from hangovers to cancer.
    Persistent poaching and habitat loss has led to a decline in the world's rhino population — according to conservation organization Save the Rhino, 892 of the animals were killed in Africa in 2018.
    According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), there are an estimated 20,000 white rhinos, 5,000 black rhinos and 3,500 greater one-horn rhinos left alive. There are believed to be fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos, and fewer than 68 Javan rhinos -- both considered to be critically endangered species.
    The international trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977, regulated by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but individual countries determine their own laws that allow or prohibit its sale domestically, according to Save the Rhino.
    In research published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, the Oxford scientists said they were able to fabricate samples that looked and felt like real rhino horn — something they hope will allow for "credible fakes" to flood the market, confusing consumers and diminishing demand for the product.
    Researchers created faux horns using horsehair, which they glued together to mimic real rhino horn.
    Researchers said analytical studies showed the fake horsehair horn demonstrated similar composition and properties to natural horn, which grows from a tightly packed tuft of hair on the animal's nose.
    '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," co-lead author Professor Fritz Vollrath, from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology, said in a statement.
    "We leave it to others to develop this technology further with the aim to confuse the trade, depress prices and thus support rhino conservation," he added.
    Vollrath told CNN that by demonstrating how easily fake rhino horn can be created, he hoped potential consumers would think twice about buying rhino horn for huge sums.