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Extinction and elixirs

  • Animals species are being driven to extinction to satisfy the demands of Chinese medicine


DEC 29 -

Whole species in India, from scorpions to sharks and tigers, are disappearing and their parts fetching up in China. All in the name of traditional medicine.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) uses plants, animal parts and minerals. It believes that the health of a body can be restored by allowing the vital energy Qi to move through the body. TCM greatly depends on a book, the Neijing, written in 3rd Century BC.

Ancient evils

It uses over 1,000 plants, 36 animal and over 100 insect species, most of which come from India. In the last year, more than 50 rhinos have been shot and their parts taken to China. It is illegal to catch seahorses but ships full of seahorses have been caught bound from Chennai to China.

In the last 100 years, Indian tigers have dwindled from 100,000 to 1,000—a genocide. At least 60,000 or more have been killed for China. Tiger and leopard skins are sold openly in Tibet. In TCM, tiger bones are used in plasters to treat arthritis and joint ailments, its eyes are eaten for epilepsy, whiskers for toothache, penises for virility and the paws are cut and hung over doors to scare ghosts. Now that the tiger populations of the world, including in Siberia and Sumatra, have been finished off, the Chinese are growing their own for slaughter— about 5,000 tigers are being raised in farms.

In 2007, China declared that they would use ‘farmed’ tiger parts—another ruse to poach animals and then pretend they are farm animals. Tigers that are kept in Chinese zoos are allowed to die of starvation because their bones are worth more in the market than the zoo earns from visitors. TCM has officially removed tiger bones from its pharmacopeia—the usual Chinese eyewash—and replaced them with the wild mole rat, dogs, cows, goats. However, surveys by TRAFFIC show that about 3-5 percent of TCM shops in China and 45 percent of Chinese TCM shops across the world, including in the US, still sell tiger parts.

Black bear bile is used in TCM to treat liver ailments and headaches. Because of the significant reduction in the population of wild Asiatic black bears due to poaching, bear farming was introduced in China in 1984. On these farms, 7,000 bears are confined in crush cages where they cannot move and their bile is extracted through catheters forced into the bears’ abdomens and gall bladders. They live and die in agony, moaning and banging their heads against their cages.

Musk from the Musk deer is used for circulation, skin infections and abdominal pain. TRAFFIC reports that China’s demand for musk is estimated at 1,000 kilograms per year, which requires the musk glands of at least 100,000 deer.

The seahorse is used in TCM as a treatment for 90 medicine products to treat kidney ailment and respiratory problems. Twenty million seahorses in 32 countries are killed each year to fulfil China’s demand of 250 tonnes per year.

Tigers, rhinos, all else

Rhinoceros horn is a TCM favourite. India’s rhinos now number less than 500. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only 3,000 rhinos in Africa and 2,800 of all three Asian species (Sumatran, Javan and Indian) in Asia still survive. Rhinoceros horns are used to treat fever, convulsions, devil possession, headaches, typhoid, liver, dysentery, delirium, arthritis, melancholia, loss of voice, haemorrhages, nosebleeds, smallpox, food poisoning….this clump of congealed hair on this poor animal’s nose can solve anything, it seems.

Officials in the countries supposed to protect their rhinos are often corrupt and complicit in the killings. Much of the illegal hunting is undertaken by organised crime gangs. China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have been the three biggest importers of rhino horn in the last 80 years. Although the government officially banned all imports in 1979, rhino horn was smuggled in from Macao, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Taiwan and South Africa. The rhino population has decreased by 95 percent in the last 30 years and they have no hope of surviving the next five years in face of the relentless Chinese onslaught. In South Africa, rhinos are being slaughtered at the rate of one each day. According to the WWF, more than 340 rhinos have been killed this year in South Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature issued a report on endangered species, concluding that the Western Black Rhino is now officially extinct.

Korean traditional medicine is based on the Chinese version, said to have come to Korea in the sixth century. They also use rhino horn for everything, including strokes, dermatitis, facial paralysis, high blood pressure and coma. The most popular medicine is Woo Hwang Chang Shim Won, a medicine ball made from rhinoceros horn, musk, cow gallstones and herbs.

The demand for body parts has severely threatened giant manta rays, whose populations have declined globally by about one-third in recent years. The manta ray’s decline is due to the increasing demand from the Chinese for gill rakers—thin filaments that rays use to filter food from water—which are used to treat chicken pox. Targeted fishing of rays occurs in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Peru.

The Chinese alligator are fewer than 200 in the wild, restricted to a reserve in the Anhui province of China. Purebred wild water buffaloes may already have disappeared from the world, having been hunted down in Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka for the treatment of conditions ranging from fever to convulsions. Shark populations have declined dramatically in recent years, due to the demand for shark fins and Chinese medicine. India sends 95 percent of these sharks, cutting their fins off while alive and throwing them back into the ocean to die.

Just superstition

Are these so called medicines effective? Scientists at the China Pharmacological Institute say that normal buffalo horn or any other animal horn can be used instead of rhino because the active ingredient is simply keratin, which exists in all horns, nails and hair.

There is no scientific evidence that any of these animal body parts treat or cure any medical problem. TCM is quack medicine for illiterate Chinese driven by superstition. If these body parts could actually cure cancer and other diseases, scientists would be studying them to isolate the active ingredients. But they don’t work; these animals are being driven to extinction not because of their bodies’ special, magical properties but because of viciousness and ignorance.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org (gandhim@nic.in)

Posted on: 2013-12-29 08:54