Heroes

How do you take down a $20 billion black market and save the rhinos with a 3D printer? Like this.

With rhinos on the verge of extinction, this start-up is the species' best chance of survival.

How do you take down a $20 billion black market and save the rhinos with a 3D printer? Like this.

A biotech start-up named Pembient is hoping to put an end to rhino poaching in a very unconventional way.

Pembient's goal is to create artificial reproductions of wildlife products — like rhino horn and elephant ivory — in an effort to wipe out the black market.

Basically, they're giving rhino horn consumers what they want — or rather, artificial, genetically identical 3D printed versions of what they want.

Yep, they plan to do all this through 3D printing; creating a product indistinguishable from the real thing. And by "indistinguishable from the real thing," I don't just mean in appearance. I'm talking about appearance, feel, weight, right down to the genetic makeup.


It's really cool, futuristic-sounding technology that the company says they hope to be able to unveil in June this year.

See that thing in the middle? That's the “fake" one.

Source: Arvind Gupta/Twitter: "The world's first man-made rhino horn! "

By flooding the market with a genetically identical product, the black market price will drop considerably, making rhinos a less lucrative target for poachers.

"We surveyed users of rhino horn and found that 45% of them would accept using rhino horn made from a lab," said Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient, in a press release. "In comparison, only 15% said they would use water buffalo horn, the official substitute for rhino horn."

It's great that nearly half of the people Pembient surveyed would knowingly use lab-made rhino horn, but what's even better is that if the end product is as good as they would lead everyone to believe, it could have the effect of overloading the rhino horn supply (because it'd be indistinguishable from real rhino horn) and force the market price of rhino horn down, making it less attractive to poachers.

In other words, Pembient's 3D-printed rhino horn could undercut the entire black market. This seems like a solid approach because, honestly, other anti-poaching efforts haven't worked.

Poaching might not seem like that big of a problem, but when I started digging into it, what I found was horrifying and heartbreaking.

Over the past 40 years, 95% of the world's rhino population has been lost to poaching.

Just last year, more than 1,200 rhinos were killed in South Africa. That doesn't mean much without additional context. Well, here it is: That was a record high, up by more than 20% over the previous record high (which happened to be in 2013). Also, since 2007, poaching has increased 90 times over.

Rhinos are in trouble. Big, big trouble.

Nearly every species of rhino is considered critically endangered, with some species — like the Northern white rhino having their numbers dip into the single digits. And yet they're still hunted.

As for why rhinos are poached, it has to do with the value of their horns.

Rhino horns have been valued at up to $35,000 per pound on Asia's black market. Comparatively, that means that pound for pound, it's worth as much as cocaine.

Knowing this, it's easy to understand why someone would break laws to bring down rhinos: it's big money. Big, big money.

And demand for rhino horn is boosted by the (erroneous) belief that the horn can cure cancer, strokes, and all sorts of diseases.

While it's illegal to possess rhino horn powder in a number of countries, demand still exists. In large part, the unproven belief in this brand of alternative medicine is what drives the poaching industry.

This photo shows a woman in Hanoi, Vietnam grinding a rhino horn down to powder.

This plan might be the last chance to shift momentum in the rhino trade before rhinos go extinct.

It looks like virtually every other method of reducing rhino poaching has come up short.

"Rhino ambassadors" made up of people like Vietnamese pop star Hong Nhung have gotten increasingly involved with efforts to shift public opinion on the use of rhino horn powder.

"People back home need to learn that we need to keep these animals for future generations and not let them disappear," Nhung told the Agence France-Presse.

Hong Nhung is seen here in September 2014 near a dead white rhino near Kruger National Park.

Users of rhino horn powder swear by it (despite the lack of evidence that it actually serves a medicinal purpose). This keeps demand high, and so long as that demand exists, poachers will continue to kill rhinos.

This man was protesting outside the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, in September 2011.

So, if demand is going to stay naturally high, how do you bring it down? Raise the supply (with lab-produced horn)! If that works, the price of rhino horn will plummet, and poachers will be less and less inclined to take the risks needed to continue poaching.

When it comes to taking down a $20 billion industry like the illegal wildlife trade, all options have to be on the table, and it seems like Pembient has as good a chance as any to create real change that benefits the world's rhino population.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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