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How The Road To Rhinoceros Conservation Leads To San Antonio

Digo Souza / Flickr

For Huyen Hoang and his identical twin brother -- who also has the same name -- the plight of the Asian rhinoceros was all but unknown, until one day a news report featured images of a Javan rhino poached for it’s horn.

Like many of us, the Portland State University undergraduate was unaware of the increasing black market for rhinoceros horn, and the keratin inside it. The price has jumped so high it at times rivals gold; by some estimates reaching $65,000 a kilogram.

"I knew about traditional medicines using animal products including the Rhino horn but I just never thought that these rhino’s were extinct or going extinct. I thought, 'Wow, there’s serious consequences to using this stuff,'" said Hoang.

But it's not just traditional medicines. In Vietnam, it is a status symbol amongst the affluent to use recreationally, and since 2007 demand has been driven up.  In 2011, the Javan rhino, the one Hoang  first saw a photo of, was wiped out of Vietnam.

Credit Republic of South Africa: Department of Environmental Affairs
From "A Study on The Dehorning of African Rhinoceroses as a Tool to Reduce the Risk of Poaching"

In 2012, as eager consumers look to Africa, South Africa saw a record setting year in rhino slaughters.  It was then that Huyen and his brother decided to try to find a solution, so they started Rhinoceros Horn LLC. Which led them to a company here in San Antonio, Keraplast.

"They looked around the world for where could they source keratin from, and as we are the world’s leading developer of Keratin products, they came across in their search," said Keraplast CEO, Rob Kelly.

According to Kelly, the company has been extracting Keratin from sheep’s wool since 1996. Mostly they sell it to cosmetics companies for hair and skin products, but Kelly said they saw a unique opportunity to pair their name with Rhinoceros Horn LLC.  

Keraplast provides the powder, Rhino Horn provides the knowledge of the marketplace and the passion to try and solve this problem.  However, there is a price tag.  

Hoang is trying to raise $300,000 on the popular crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, and the prospects aren’t good.  The company has  a month to meet that goal, and the count so far have raised only $550.

"We’re preparing in the case it doesn’t work out to reduce the size of the units and that way we can reduce the cost. If that doesn’t work out either we might have to go with seeking private investments and/or going through the business administration for loans," said Hoang.

Additional reporting was provided by Carley Espensen

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive