Synthetic rhino horn ready 'in two years'
The man behind attempts to develop synthetic rhino horn has told the BBC that he hopes to have a "bio-identical" product ready to market in two years.
Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient, believes that introducing a highly similar but manufactured horn could help stem the rhino-poaching crisis.
Here at the Cites meeting the plans have been condemned by conservationists as "too risky".
Campaigners want the species body to ban synthetics from endangered animals.
Over the years, the development of human-made alternatives to some natural species has seen some success.
Orchids produced in the laboratory have served as an alternative for collectors while a synthesised version of the chemical that's found in bear bile has been accepted in traditional Chinese medicine.
Now, a number of start-ups are seeking to develop alternatives for rhino horn and elephant ivory.
The most advanced is said to be a company called Pembient who believe they are very close to producing solid, horn-like material.
"Earlier this year, we produced low fidelity prototypes, they are solids but they don't have all the properties of rhino horn and we are working now to produce these high quality bio-identical solids," CEO Matthew Markus told BBC News at the Cites meeting.
"The higher fidelity prototypes may take two years and that's unless all this flak scares investors off."
The "flak" that Mr Markus is talking about is the opposition from conservationists and wildlife campaigners to his ideas.
They are concerned about anything that could make the current rhino poaching surge worse.
The number of rhinos killed for their horns has risen dramatically over the past nine years. In 2007, just 13 rhinos were killed in South Africa. Last year, that number was 1,175.
At a side event here in Johannesburg, campaigners vociferously denounced the synthetic rhino idea.
"We are very concerned that these synthetic products would provide a cover for illegal trade," said Lee Henry from WWF.
"How are enforcement officers on the ground supposed to distinguish between the two?"