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Chinese medicines are packed with endangered animal DNA

“Dried geckos are used as an aphrodisiac; monkey skeletons are used to treat general pain”.

Image: Wilfredo Lee

MORE SHOULD BE done to curb the use of endangered species in traditional medicines, a new study says.

In an article published the journal Forensic Science Medicine and Pathology, Professor Roger Byard, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine says that Chinese medicines drive the illegal wildlife trade.

The World Health Organisation says that around 80% of people in developing countries rely on traditional medicines. This can be for a plethora of reasons, Professor Byard says.

“Rhinoceros horn is used to “cure” disorders ranging from cerebral haemorrhage to AIDS, selling for as much as US$50,000 per kilogram; the powdered bones of tigers and mole rats are used to treat arthritis; shell extracts of freshwater turtles are used to treat cancer; dried geckos are used as an aphrodisiac; monkey skeletons are used to treat general pain; and moon bears are milked for their bile through catheters in order to provide people with a treatment for digestive illnesses,”

Around 13% of all Chinese traditional medicines are suspected to contain animal derivatives, the article says.

Professor Byard would like more to be done to control the use of endangered and threatened animals in traditional medicines.

“Wildlife crime has been estimated to cost between US$10 and 20 billion per year globally.”

Byard says that the problem is more widespread than just in China.

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“Surprisingly, even a Chinese medicine product purchased over the counter in Adelaide, Australia, was found to contain traces of snow leopard.

“This illegal and very damaging trade needs to stop, however, unfortunately, for a number of species, it may already be too late.”

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