Rhinoceros horns are big business. Traditional Chinese medicine uses them to treat rheumatism and gout,
even though they have no actual pharmaceutical properties beyond placebo.
And Yemeni craftsmen carve them into dagger handles. A kilogram can thus command as much as $60,000,
so there is tremendous incentive for poachers to hunt the animals.
Since almost all rhinoceros populations are endangered, several critically, this is a serious problem.
Some conservationists therefore suggest that a way to reduce pressure on the animals might be to flood the market with fakes.
This, they hope, would reduce the value of real horns and consequently the incentive to hunt rhinos.
That would require the fakes to be good. But Fritz Vollrath, a zoologist at Oxford University, reckons his skills as a forger are up to the challenge.
As he writes in Scientific Reports, he and his colleagues from Fudan University, in Shanghai,
have come up with a cheap and easy-to-make knock-off that is strikingly similar to the real thing.
The main ingredient of Dr Vollrath's forged horns is horsehair.
Despite their differing appearances, horses and rhinos are reasonably closely related. Horses do not have horns, of course.
But, technically, neither do rhinos. Unlike the structures that adorn cattle and bison, which have cores made of bone,
the "horns" of rhinoceros are composed of hairs bound tightly together by a mixture of dead cells.
Examination under a microscope showed that hairs collected from horses' tails
had similar dimensions and symmetry to those found in the horns of rhinos.
They also shared a spongy core structure. Horse hairs had a scaly layer that was absent from those of the rhino,
but the researchers were able to strip this away with a solution of lithium bromide.