In today’s world, technology is changing the way we view and do almost everything. From music, to literature, to exercising, all of our activities have become digitized and monitored. One technology tool that is gaining popularity is the use of 3D mapping and printing for animal protection.
Since 2011, there has been an enormous rise in animal poaching; most notably, black rhinos. According to WorldWildLife.org black rhinos are a critically endangered species. While black rhinos once freely roamed the plains of Africa in the hundreds of thousands, now there are only about 5,000 black rhinos left. The main reason for this targeted poaching is the black rhinos’ horns. The horn of a black rhino can sell on the black market for about $60,000 USD per kilogram. The poaching his fueled not only for profit but also because of the belief in Asia that the horn can heal various ailments. Poachers will kill the rhino, saw off its horn, and leave the rhino to die in the middle of the desert. The poaching problem has been so out of control, that for the world’s last albino rhino there is a twenty-four hour security guard (see video here http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/16/africa/kenya-northern-white-rhino/).
While law enforcement has tried many, many times to stop the sale of rhino horns on the black market, it has not worked. The risk of reward is too great to stop the poachers and the rhino population has been steadily decreasing. A new strategy to combat poaching is to flood the market with fake rhino horns. A company in Seattle called “Pembient” has been working with scientists and animal activists to create replicas to rhino horns. After studying the keratin and texture actual rhino horn , Pembient has been attempting to bioengineer the keratin horn and print 3D copies of it. Once enough copies have been produced, the hope is to flood the black market with them and reduce the demand. If there are enough fake rhino horns circulating, the poaching will hopefully be reduced.
I think this is a very important use of 3D printing. As a huge animal lover, I have never understood how a poacher could simply kill a giant, beautiful animal such as a rhino and drive it to the point of extinction. As human beings, we have a responsibility to our planet and the animals that live on it. Digital Humanities is an important revolution not just for humans, but the planet itself. Putting 3D printing to use for the protection of black rhinos is a just cause. With the use of it, we will be able to continue studying the animal kingdom and protect the living creatures that can otherwise not protect themselves. As we find ourselves in the middle of an environmental crisis and an ecosystem meltdown (no pun intended), I think we need to make more use of our technologies towards preserving the environment. If we do not, we could find ourselves in a very sticky situation with few solutions, not too far down the road.