Commission by Mullenlowe Group
Central Saint Martins
NOVA X: Creative careers catalysed exhibition,
part of the
London Design Festival 2021
RE-ASSESSING THE COMMERCIAL VALUE OF THE RHINO
HORN BY EXPLORING ITS MATERIALITY
09 / 2021
Animal parts trafficking is in the 4th place of the most lucrative contraband industries, just behind guns, drugs and human trafficking. The demand for rhino horns has skyrocketed in the past decades, creating an industry worth more than £16.7 billion
today. The material retails at a higher value than gold, despite being a mixture of keratine and gelatine, two compounds that are in abundance today.
The Ceros material production process builds on existing techniques of producing material alternatives to the rhino horn. The sourcing, selection and usage of all components and equipment needed to produce the alternative have been adaptedto fit the access and limitation of a home-based studio.
Ceros | making of a rhino horn alternative,
video and music by Simon Safhalter, 2021
The material was developed using a selection of open-source recipes which use commercially available horsehair and a gelatine matrix. The tuft of hair has been treated with heat, mechanical and chemical agents that speed up the natural process of tightly packing and glueing the hair.
The polished material emits a yellow hue when put directly in front of a light source and can be carved in most shapes, just like the original rhino horn. Those two material characteristics are used as the main verifying criteria that guarantee the authenticity of the horn for customers of the black market, resulting in 70-90% of what is marketed as rhino actually being buffalo horn.
Criminal networks smuggling rhino horn into Africa are turning it into jewellery to evade its detection in airports. After arriving in the destination country, the carved rhino horn jewellery can be grated and consumed by patients prescribing to traditional medicine or used as vanity objects signalling status. The Ceros products have been shaped and carved into individual bracelet parts of which each weight 4.2 g - the exact dose prescribed to the patients consuming the horn.
Most animal material alternatives focus on the very pressing problem of sustainable production. However, the booming niche fields of traditional medicine and luxury status signalling, which see endangered species as commodities that exist for the betterment of the human, is quietly exploding. Unfortunately, its consequences might eventually cost us the biodiversity of the most diverse ecosystems.
“Many wildlife experts agree that "wildlife" in wildlife crime should be dropped and that we should instead just think of it simply as crime. To give it a special label risks reinforcing the impression that natural resource crimes are somewhat different from other crimes and thus not worthy of the same level of investigative and judicial support.”
(Journalist Rachel Nuwer, journalist and author of Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking, 2018, p. 203)