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    Traditional Chinese medicine stirs a concoction in Asia, Africa and the Americas

    EnvironmentAnimals and wildlifeTraditional Chinese medicine stirs a concoction in Asia, Africa...
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    Traditional Chinese medicine stirs a concoction in Asia, Africa and the Americas

    Animal rights groups are voicing concern as the China’s traditional medicine business is leading to the harvesting of animals, besides plants, thus threatening biodiversity.

    On 18 January, a Canada-based Chinese herbal medicine company pleaded guilty to charges of being in possession of 20,000 fins from a protected shark species. Hand Hing Medicine Ltd. was fined $75,000 by the Vancouver provincial court.

    On 20 January, officials of Assam’s Kaziranga national park reported finding an adult female rhinoceros’ carcass. Its horn was missing and park officials suspected this to be the work of poachers. Rhino horn occupies a place of pride in traditional Chinese medicine (TMC).

    A global Chinese medicine boom has sparked fears for endangered species from Asia, Africa and even the Americas. Rising exports of traditional Chinese medicine products, rising on the crest of the Belt and Road initiative, is accelerating the harvest of rare and endangered plant produce and animal body parts.

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    Animal rights groups are alarmed and accuse Chinese medicine companies of plundering bio-diversity for short-term pecuniary interests.

    Recent years have seen the rise of chains of traditional Chinese medicine suppliers and clinics across Africa, according to a report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

    “The aggressive expansion of traditional Chinese medicine in many African countries is posing a direct threat to the future of some endangered species,” the group said in a statement.

    While the majority of Chinese medicinal treatments are plant-based, there is also a distinct animal and wildlife component to the Chinese pharma practices. The profit motive has led many pharmaceutical companies to source ingredients from threatened animals, aggravating the pressure on the survival of these species, EIA explains.

    “Any utilization of threatened species in traditional Chinese medicine could potentially stimulate further demand, incentivise wildlife crime and ultimately lead to over-exploitation,” EIA campaigner Ceres Kam warned.

    Missing Indian donkeys

    On 21 December 2021, a senior official of the department of animal husbandry in New Delhi, wrote to the home ministry, voicing concern over the sharp drop in India’s population of donkeys following the last animal census. The donkeys and donkey hides, he said in his communication, were being smuggled to Nepal.

    The official based his letter on a research by Brooke India, a NGO working on equines that points to donkeys and donkey hide smuggled through the porous Indo-Nepal border to supply ejiao, a gelatinous compound obtained from donkey hide for Chinese medicinal use for virility and longevity.

    Brooke India communication officer Amit Kumar says that the insatiable Chinese demand for ejiao is an important factor in the ugly race leading donkeys in the region to extinction. He cites the example of neighbouring Pakistan where, he says, donkeys are on the verge of extinction.

    In November 2019, UK-based Donkey Sanctuary reported that 4.8 million donkey hides were required to satisfy the global demand for ejiao, resulting in steep declines of donkey populations around the world.

    “The ejiao industry has experienced significant growth over the past six years,” Amit Kumar says. “In the three years between 2013 and 2016, the annual production of ejiao increased from 3,200 to 5,600 tonnes, a growth of over 20 per cent.”

    EIA’s Kam is concerned that the dependence on animals will have the knock-on effect of drastically increasing demand for treatments containing wildlife and, in turn, cause more species to become threatened or extinct.

    She says, “Ultimately, the unfettered growth of traditional Chinese medicine poses a serious threat to the biodiversity found in many African countries, all in the name of short-term profit.

    “Any utilisation of threatened species could potentially stimulate further demand, incentivise wildlife crime and ultimately lead to over-exploitation.”

     

    Image: Hippopx Creative Commons Zero – CC0

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