Asian medicine a major cause of biodiversity loss

I haven’t noticed any shortage of people in China – what a tragedy the men there feel like they need to eat endangered animal penises, and for the government not to stop it.

6 Mar 2003. S. Malik et al. Pinniped Penises in Trade: A Molecular-Genetic Investigation. Conservation Biology.

Our results confirm that penises from different pinnipeds are in international trade.  These findings are consistent with other recent evidence that the lucrative market for pinniped penises may be encouraging the unregulated hunting of seals, including protected species, and the harvesting of other unidentified mammalian species [for use in traditional Chinese medicine].

Deer Penis (Wikipedia)

The deer penis is typically very large and, proponents claim, for it to retain its properties it must be extracted from the deer while still alive.Often it is then sliced into small pieces, typically by women and then roasted and dried in the sun.

During the 2008 Summer Olympics, China banned deer penis potions from athletes’ diets. This is because according to traditional Chinese medicine, deer penis, especially if ingested while soaked in alcohol (deer penis wine), is an effective remedy for athletic injuries.  When consumed, a deer penis or tiger penis is also said to enhance virility, and is thought by some to be an aphrodisiac.

Tiger Penis (Wikipedia)

In traditional Chinese medicine, a tiger penis is said to have important therapeutic properties. However, modern science does not support the belief that the tiger penis possesses any special potency. Furthermore, the demand for tiger parts exacerbates the endangered status of the tiger by providing a market for poachers. While the tiger penis is consumed in parts of China and Southeast Asia, particularly in Laos and Cambodia, its preparation is generally condemned by modern nations.  The penis of a tiger when consumed is said to enhance male virility and be an aphrodisiac, although no scientific studies support these claims. In parts of southeast Asia it is seen as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. This has contributed to the poaching of tigers for their presumed benefits, the penis being just one of many of its assets. As a result the tiger penis is usually sold on the black market in China.

But it’s not just penises — virtually any kind of endangered plant or animal is used to the point of extinction.

9 March 2012. Xiuxiang Meng et al. Asian Medicine: Exploitation of Wildlife. Science.

Traditional asian medicine’s effects on wildlife conservation cannot be ignored. The endangered musk deer provides a typical example.

9 March 2012. Shixiong Cao and Qi Feng. Asian Medicine: Exploitation of Plants. Science.

As the market demand for wild Chinese herbs has grown, the production scale of the Chinese herb industry has expanded dramatically. However, concealed by the prosperity of the Chinese medicinal herb industry is a huge ecological problem. In recent years, intensive and unrestrained exploitation of wild Chinese herbs has damaged natural resources. An estimated 2000 wild Chinese herbs are at risk of extinction.  Severe ecological deterioration and soil erosion seriously threaten the habitats of many wild Chinese herbs, especially in fragile ecological environments such as high-altitude areas or arid regions.

Navjot S. Sodhi, et. al. Dec 2004. Southeast Asian biodiversity: an impending disaster. Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.19 No.12.

Southeast Asia has the highest relative rate of deforestation of any major tropical region, and could lose three quarters of its original forests by 2100 and up to 42% of its biodiversity. If present levels of deforestation were to continue unabated, Southeast Asia will lose almost three-quarters of its original forest cover by the turn of the next century, resulting in massive species declines and extinctions. More importantly, this biodiversity crisis is likely to develop into a full-fledged disaster, as the region is home to one of the highest concentrations of endemic species. Many animal and plant products are used in traditional Chinese medicine, which dates back 5000 years. Trade in the raw materials of traditional Chinese medicine has a detrimental impact on many vertebrates in Southeast Asia, including tigers, bears, rhinos, turtles, snakes, tokay geckos, pangolins, monkeys and swiftlets. This is exemplified by the Sumatran tiger Panthera tigris sumatrae, from which body parts such as bones and penises are used in traditional medicine.


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