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Chinese Medicine and Endangered Wildlife

By: Eleanor Webber for Acufinder Magazine

Healing Species
TCM practitioners are joining forces with governments and wildlife organizations to stop the trade in products made from endangered species.

The growing popularity of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) throughout America and the rest of the world has inadvertently increased the threat to certain endangered plants and animals. Endangered wildlife, such as the tiger and rhinoceros, are already facing the pressures of habitat destruction and the trade in skins, horns and furs. Now their numbers are increasingly depleted by the use of animal parts in traditional cures and tonics.

But there is good news: The TCM community is coming together with wildlife conservation organizations to fight the problem and become an integral part of the solution.

The animal most at risk of extinction is the tiger. Long revered in China as a symbol of power and strength, the tiger is still coveted for its medicinal properties. This regard for the majestic animal and its healing abilities is driving the animal to extinction. Only a century ago there were eight kinds of tigers, with over 100,000 wild tigers in the world. Today only five tiger subspecies exist, with fewer than 5,000 wild tigers in the world.

Rhinos face a similar plight. For centuries rhino horn has been used to treat fevers, convulsions, and delirium. But over time the number of rhinos has dwindled. In Asia, only about 2,800 rhinos remain.

Even plant life is threatened by increased demand. The popularity of ginseng has led to the over-harvesting of wild American ginseng root, which is now listed as endangered.

The TCM academic community is aware of which animals are endangered and is savvy about using substitutes. But more needs to be done. That was the message that emerged recently in a discussion at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine among Claudia McMurray, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science, Bo Derek, the Special Envoy of the Secretary of State on Wildlife Trafficking Issues, and leaders in the field of traditional Chinese medicine.

China is the world™s largest market for wildlife trafficking, and the United States is second. Consumers in both countries, many of them ignorant of these animals™ endangered status, are driving demand for the black market in animal products. As long as people covet the tiger bone and rhino horn in medicines and tonics, and as long as they remain uneducated about suitable alternatives, the decisions of responsible acupuncturists won™t be enough to save these animals.

To combat the problem, McMurray formed the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT), a unique coalition of government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work to enforce existing laws, add more stringent laws where needed, and educate consumers not to buy products that contain illegal wildlife substances. Several countries have become partners in the coalition, including the United States, Great Britain, and India. China is being encouraged to augment its current efforts to stop wildlife trafficking by becoming a member as well.

The TCM community is also heavily involved with efforts to educate. In 2007 a group of TCM specialists will embark on the Ten Thousand Mile Travel Campaign, traveling throughout China and stopping at events to raise public awareness about why tiger bone and other endangered species parts should no longer be sold or used. In 2008, just before the Summer Olympics open in Beijing, the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS) will host an event at the Great Wall, where a completed global petition against the use of tiger bone and other endangered species will be presented as a gift to Beijing™s Olympics.

You can also improve the situation for endangered wildlife:

  • Make sure the herbal formulas you use do not contain any at-risk plants or animals.
  • Ask about the effective substitutes that are readily available.

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