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MUTANT GENE SAVES RHINO

Endangered species saved from extinction by genetic modification

A decade ago, the African rhino was threatened with extinction as poaching escalated every year. Demand for rhino horn reached an all-time high in 2016, and poachers, desperate for instant riches, risked their lives to kill the remaining animals in South Africa’s national parks.

Powdered rhino horn is highly prized in east Asia for its mythical medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities – all false; but now it’s an important status symbol in newly affluent Chinese and Vietnamese communities.

Private rhino ranchers in South Africa (which is home to 95% of all rhinos worldwide) decided to experiment with age-reversing drugs, to extend the lives of their valuable breeding herds. Surprisingly, the offspring from these genetically treated adults failed to develop the long horns so sought after by poachers.

Now a concerted effort to inoculate rhinos in the wild has resulted in most young rhinos having no horns at all. They are no longer a target for poachers, and numbers are increasing.

This development has also opened the way for legal trade in rhino horn stockpiles, and the new industry of 3D-printing synthetic rhino horn for the Asian market is booming. With the stigma of poaching removed, Chinese millionaires can openly offer their guests the finest rhino horn powder from Africa.

It’s a winning formula for conservation too – the billion-dollar industry ensures plenty of funding for breeding and security for the remaining horned individuals. Purists complain that the hornless rhinos are a new subspecies; but isn’t that far better than being extinct?

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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