Bionic Rhino

Bionic Rhino

In a previous post (Angry Rhino- I wrote about the plight of rhinos and the increasing desire for rhino horns for traditional medicine from a decreasing rhino population. This post looks at some of the innovative thinking currently out there to save these amazing creatures.

3-D Horns

The biotech company Pembient creates 3-D printed rhino horns made of keratin (the protein that rhino horns are made of-yes, like your fingernails) and rhino DNA. The idea is to flood the market with inexpensive 3-D printed rhino horns that are basically the same as the actual horns. There are some potential issues with this product, one being that it may perpetuate the pseudo-science behind the current use of rhino horns in medical treatments. It may also be difficult to identify true horns from the 3-D printed variety by visual identification or genetic testing.


The British conservation nonprofit Protect developed the Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device (RAPID). It is a three-part system that: 1. Monitors individual rhino locations through a GPS tracker collar found around the animal’s neck. 2. Monitors heart rate to determine if the animal is in distress through a heart rate sensor inserted under the skin. 3. Documents poaching activity through a small camera implanted in the rhino’s horn that will begin filming if the heart rate monitor activates it through large, sudden changes in the animal’s heart rate.

Park authorities will be able to pinpoint the exact location of poaching activities through the GPS and possibly identify poachers through the camera. This will allow them to act strategically to prevent further harm to the rhino’s in their care. It may also deter poachers outright as they will most likely not approach a “RAPID rhino”. This system has been field tested in South Africa and the results of those tests can found in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

How effective will either of these technological endeavors be? Could they really make a difference? Who knows, but the use of technology to help conservation is to be applauded. We need this type of out of the box thinking to help protect our dwindling wildlife populations.

About the Illustration

Straight up acrylic, I just added some obviously manufactured horns to the previous “Angry Rhino” painting. Now on sale at my Etsy shop:

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  1. Loved hearing about the 3-D horns and RAPID monitoring! It is so interesting to learn about innovative ways that people are using technology in conservation and science.


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