3D Printing as a Tool of Conservation

Last week we talked about how 3D printing is used in medicine to build replacement body parts, to be used as custom-made prosthetics, to replace bones and joints, or even to replace components of organs like heart valves. This week, we bring to you information about how 3D printing is being used in much the same way; replacing natural, organic materials with 3D printed replacements, but this time it is with the goal of conservation.

For the last few decades, some of the most iconic animals in the world, the Rhino and the Elephant, have been harvested on a mass scale for their tusks and horns. These are then refined for use as ornaments, mainly in eastern societies like China, which are then placed around the home or office, as a status symbol. Although there are laws against this in just about every country in the world, in places where it remains popular, the trade goes largely unchecked.

3D printing has come to the rescue in this situation, with the promise of replacing the naturally produced Rhino and Elephant horn and tusk with 3D printed alternatives which will leave their customers none the wiser. As all other solutions appear to have failed, this presents the global community with a great opportunity to preserve these important species.

As we now can print these materials without actually needing to harvest from the natural world, this presents an interesting question about the ethics of making them freely available to communities around the world. As printing food becomes more advanced too, will we find it culturally acceptable to eat exotic meats like Dolphin, Whale, or Dog?