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Shining a spotlight on the threat posed by synthetic alternatives to endangered species

Posted on 26 September 2016

Bio-engineered products could negatively impact wild populations
For the first time, the world’s largest wildlife trade conference discussed the need to regulate synthetic alternatives to endangered wildlife products.
There has been increasing concern about the possible impact that synthetic – or bioengineered – wildlife products could have on wild populations. In particular, attention has focussed on the possible threat posed by bioengineered rhino horn, which a number of companies claim to be developing.
“WWF has serious concerns about the advent of bioengineered wildlife products, particularly rhino horn products,” said Leigh Henry.  “These products, which are being touted as “virtually indistinguishable” from genuine horn, could have significant impacts on the conservation of rhinos in the wild.”
“If these products mirror the genuine article, they could very easily provide cover for an already flourishing illegal trade in rhino horn, causing significant complications for law enforcement on the ground,” added Henry.
At CITES CoP17 today, Parties agreed on the need to determine how best to regulate bioengineered products derived from CITES listed species to ensure that they have no detrimental impact on wild populations.
The motion was proposed by the US, which believes that CITES has the authority to regulate international trade in these products. However, the US acknowledged that this was open to interpretation and proposed dialogue over the next year to agree how CITES should regulate these products.
This view was endorsed by the CITES committee.
“We urgently need a clear decision on how to regulate these products. While the manufacturers have suggested that they could include “markers” in the products that could be forensically detected, this is simply not a practicable solution. There are few facilities that offer this forensic testing capacity, and costs can be prohibitive. And in the end, these tests would do nothing to assist law enforcement officers working in markets or in the field in distinguishing genuine versus bioengineered horn,” added Henry. 
A rhino horn for sale on the table of a black market animal trade dealer at his home in Hanoi, Vietnam
© Robert Patterson / WWF