SEA HORSES, DEER ANTLERS, ANIMAL PARTS, ENDANGERED ANIMALS AND CHINESE MEDICINE

ANIMAL PARTS AND CHINESE MEDICINE

20080311-HK_lizard2-707167 weird meat com.jpg
Dried flying lizards
Chinese medicine shops often sell things like dried starfish, bear paws, dried snakes, starfish flakes, dried scorpions, horse gallstones, rats fetuses picked in oil, turtle shells, powdered snakes, powdered horns, fuzzy elk antlers, frogs, birds' beaks, snakeskins, umbilical cords from donkeys and herring spawn wrapped in kelp---or medicines that contain these things as one of their ingredients. Medicines made from animals often purport to have properties which are associated with the animal.

Elephant skin is taken for acne; monkey heads are eaten for headaches and turtle heads are consumed for labor pains. Snakes are supposed to make one stronger. Snake glands are good for the eyes. Powdered snake gall bladder is reputed to be a cure for bronchitis. Coin snakes are one of the more popular remedies. Held together with sticks, they are sold coiled up with the head popping out of the middle and fact look like black quarters. They are boiled into a thick black liquid that is sipped like tea.

Chinese believe that eating turtles is supposed to make one live longer. Turtles have long been associated with longevity. Tons of turtles from five different species are shipped from Malaysia and Vietnam to China. Turtle blood is available at Wall-Marts in China. Lizards are taken for high blood pressure and the skulls of gazelles are ground into powder to make people strong. Bull gallstones are highly valued and very expensive. They are yellowish and about the size of nickels and are used to treat fevers and inflammation

Insects used Chinese medicine include pulverized weaver ants for asthma, powered cockroaches for stroke and silkworm feces for typhus. Dried cicadas are boiled in a soup to improve eyesight. Bee venom, honey and other bee products have been used for centuries by as folk remedies in China. Black scorpions sell for $12 a pound.

Dragon bones, actually ancient human and animal bones, play a significant role in Chinese culture. In the past they were prized for their medicinal qualities and used to treat malaria and other diseases. Now they are treasured not only by paleo-anthropologists but also by nationalists seeking to prove the biological continuity and singularity of the Chinese people. [Source: Sheila Melvin, New York Times, August 28, 2008]

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) /nccam.nih.gov/health ; National Center for Biotechnology Information resources on Chinese Medicine ncbi.nlm.nih.gov ; Skepticism of Chinese Medicine quackwatch.org ; Origins of Chinese Medicine logoi.com History of Chinese Medicine albion.edu/history ;Americam Journal for Chinese Medicine Chinese Text Project ; Wikipedia article on Traditional Chinese Medicine Wikipedia ; Oriental Style ourorient.com Americam Journal for Chinese Medicine ejournals.worldscientific.com Animals and Chinese Medicine: Tigers in Crisis tigersincrisis.com ; Bear Bile Farms Pictures all-creatures.org ; Animals Asia. Org animalsasia.org Starfish, Scorpions, Lizards and Chinese Medicinethingsasian.com Independent article about lizards and antlers and Chinese Medicine independent.co.uk

On Acupuncture: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mayo Clinic on Acupuncture mayoclinic.com ; National Institute of Health (NIH) on Acupuncture nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/acupuncture ; Holistic Online holisticonline.com ; American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicineaaaomonline.org ; Acupuncture Treatment.com acupuncture-treatment.com On Qi Gong Literati Traditionliterati-tradition.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Classical text sources neigong.net ; Qi Gong Institute qigonginstitute.org ; Qi Gong association of America /www.qi.org ; Skeptic’s Dictionary on Qi Gong skepdic.com More Skepticism of Qi Gong quackwatch.org ; Book: The Way of Qigong by Kenneth Cohen (Ballantine Books) On Moxibustion : Acupuncture Treatment.com acupuncture-treatment.com ; Moxibustion Video YouTube ; Wikipedia article on Fire Cupping Wikipedia ; Article on Cupping itmonline.org ; Cupping Video YouTube

Links in this Website: HEALTH IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HEALTH CARE IN CHINA---DOCTORS, INSURANCE AND COSTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; HEALTH CARE IN CHINA--- TRANSPLANTS AND DRUGS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE Factsanddetails.com/China ; ACUPUNCTURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; QI GONG AND MOXIBUSTION Factsanddetails.com/China ; ANIMAL PARTS AND CHINESE MEDICINE Factsanddetails.com/China ; DISEASES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AIDS-HIV IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; SARS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; INFLUENZA AND A/H1N1 FLU IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; BIRD FLU IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Aphrodisiacs and Chinese Medicine

20080311-_42119780_ox_penis_203x300afp bbc.jpg
Ox penises
Traditional Chinese medicine shops sell deer antlers, seahorses, deer penises, sea cucumbers, dried lizards, monkey brains, sparrow tongues, deer tails, rabbit hair, tiger penises and the fungus the grows on bat moth larvae as aphrodisiacs. Chinese men also consume bull and deer penises soaked in herbal wine, bull's pizzles cooked with Chinese yam, fertilized duck eggs and snake bile to boost their sex life.

Indian tribes in the Pacific northwest have made fortunes selling geodusck, giant burrowing clams, to markets in Hong Kong and southern China. The clams can weigh as much as 16 pounds and have a penis-like neck that can extend for three feet. Wealthy diners will pay up to $100 in Hong Kong or Shanghai for a dish made with geoduk meat.

Bird nest soup is supposed to prolong erections. Deer musk is rubbed on private parts too stimulate sex. The fact that dried sea horses are consumed for virility is ironic because sea horse are a species in which the males get pregnant.

Many aphrodisiacs either incorporate the penises of other animals or are shaped like penises. Dog penises from Thailand are sent to China and Taiwan, where they are consumed as energy boosters. Deer penis and testicles sold together on an ornate green box lined with red satin will sell for $63.

Labels on aphrodisiacs like Chinese Dragon Tonic, East Superman Pills, Strong Man Bao and Super Supa Softgels say thing like “Make yourself powerful during active sex,” “strengthen the functional activities of the loins and knees,” and “Battle impotence, lassitude, amnesia, and cold pain of the waist and knees,” An old advertisement for an aphrodisiac read: “Fight 100 battles in nine nights with no loss of verve and leave the ladies with cherished memories.” [Source: Daffyd Roderick, Time, March 19, 2001]

Deer Antlers and Chinese Medicine

20080311-_42119096_deer_juice203 bbc.jpg
deer juice
Deer antlers are thought to "build up spiritual as well as physical powers." They are consumed in tonics and teas at the beginning of the winter to ward off flu and colds. The deer antlers are usually cut with blood imbedded in them. Sometimes the blood is squeezed out of the horn. One woman who was buying deer antlers at a pharmacy told the New York Times, "I need energy. I want to have a second baby, and I think this will help."

Deer antler are often sliced paper thin and boiled with ginseng and herbs. The slices closer to the root are considered more valuable and better for health than those near the tip. Slices from short antler are said tp be better than those form long antlers, A 29-day treatment costs around $1,100.

According to research by the New Zealand Game Industry---a source of deer antlers---antler velvet stimulates the immune system and white blood cell production. Their research showed that the upper sections of the antlers were more affective than those from the lower sections.

Some Korean farmer farmers raise deer for their antlers. The meat is sold to venison-loving Germany. Imported deer antlers are purchased at a price $5 for 75 grams and sold for $9 on the wholesale market and $20 on the retail market. Koreans also fancy elk antlers. Moose antlers are considered low quality.

In South Korea, tonics made with deer antlers and the parts of endangered animals are often consumed on special occasions, once or twice a year to boost energy. Deer sinew and tendons are regarded as cures for rheumatism. They comes in large and small portions.

Centipedes and Chinese Medicine

20080311-Seahorse_Skeleton_Macro_8_-_edit wiki.jpg
Four-inch-long poisonous black centipedes with yellow legs are prized ingredients in some oriental medicine concoctions in Korea and some places in China. These disgusting creatures can be quite aggressive. When attacked they rear up and strike like snakes and can run amazingly fast. My wife was bitten on the foot by one that crawled into her bed. Her foot was swollen for about a week.

Describing a man who sold centipede juice on the streets of Seoul, one American wrote in the Korean Times, the man "displays a whole towel that is positively crawling with centipedes the size of tongue depressors. With an enormous pair of tweezers, he picks off the centipedes and drops them in a boiling vat. From a tap at the bottom of the vat, a thick red liquid oozes into glass vials.”

A sign in front of herb shop in Kyongdong market in Seoul read: "Centipedes: we will roast and grind them for you." A centipede tonic in the shop was prepared according recipe described by Huh Joon, a Chosun dynasty physician who lived from 1546 to 1615.

Seahorses and Chinese Medicine

In China, seahorses are prescribed from ailments such as asthma, arteosclerosis, dizziness, joint pain, impotence and incontinence. The fact that dried sea horses are consumed for virility is ironic because sea horse are a species in which the males get pregnant.

20080311-seahorse weird meat2.jpg
Seahorse soup
"North is ginseng and south is seahorse" is a Chinese adage from the Divine Peasant’s Herbal Compendium. But Chinese have not been the only ones who consumed seahorses as a medicine. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder reported that "ashes of seahorse...mixed with soda and pig's large" cured baldness.

In Hong Kong, "inferior" seahorses sell for about $100 a pound, Higher quality ones go for around $400 a pound. The seahorses are usually ground and mixed with herbs and other ingredients a made into a tea. An estimated 2 million seahorse were consumed n China in 1992, a tenfold increase from the previous year. Three million wee consumed in Taiwan the same year.

"North in ginseng and south is seahorse" is a Chinese adage from the Divine Pearls Herbal Compendium . In China medicine seahorses are usually ground and mixed with herbs and other ingredients a made into a tea. They are prescribed from ailments such as asthma, atherosclerosis, dizziness, joint pain, impotence and incontinence. The Chinese are not the only people who have used seahorses for medicine. The A.D. first century Roman historian Pliny the Elder reported that "ashes of seahorse...mixed with soda and pig's large" cured baldness.

Seahorse sales took off in China when the country began opening up in the 1990s. An estimated 2 million seahorse were consumed in China in 1992, a tenfold increase from the previous decade. Three million were consumed in Taiwan the same year. In Hong Kong at that time "inferior" seahorses sold for about $100 a pound. Higher quality ones went for around $400 a pound.

About 25 million of seahorses were harvested every year in the 1990s. About 95 percent of them were sold in Asia for medicines and aphrodisiacs. They are also collected alive for salt water aquarium and sold dried at souvenir shops. In the 1990s their price went up to $800 a pound.

Wild seahorses are caught by hand, with dip nets or as bycatch from shrimp trawlers. Seahorse hunter generally go after their prey at low tide at night, A good hunter can catch 60 a night. Most are dried an so to middlemen for the Chinese medicine for about 60 cents a piece.

Seahorses are difficult to raise in captivity. They are picky eaters susceptible to disease and die easily. Thus they are difficult to raise commercially and have to be harvested in the wild. Their monogamy doesn’t serve them well. If one loses a partner he or she doesn’t chose another. The company Seahorse Ireland raises seahorses from birth and has had success getting them to mates and breed in captivity. The company sells seahorses for for $2.50 a piece over the Internet.

Seahorses have disappeared from sea grass beds and mangroves from Florida to Ecuador, and on coral reefs from India to Vietnam. Reefs in the Philippines that were once teeming with seahorses are now almost void of them. So many seahorses have been caught that many species are regarded threatened or endangered. Seahorse habitats---coral reefs, grass beds and mangroves---are increasingly under stress from dredges, overfishing, coral dynamiting and pollution.

In 2003 seahorses were declared an endangered species by The United Nations Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES). An international ban on seahorse trade was imposed unless the captive-bred or used for scientific purposes. In no-fishing zones seahorses have rebounded.

Dried Caterpillars

“After we've finished heaping bowls of rice with greens and hunks of yak meat, the head of the household pulls out a blue metal box, unlocks it, pries open the lid, and motions for us to have a look,” Mark Jenkins wrote in National Geographic, “Inside are hundreds of dead caterpillars. “Yartsa gompo,” our host says proudly. Each dried caterpillar, he explains, will sell for between four and ten dollars. There's probably ten grand in dead caterpillars in his padlocked blue box. Yartsa gompo---called chong cao in China---is a parasite-infected caterpillar that lives only in grasslands above 10,000 feet. The parasite, a kind of fungus, kills the caterpillar, then feeds on its body.” [Source: Mark Jenkins, National Geographic, May 2010]

“Every spring Tibetan nomads wander their yak meadows with a small, curved metal trowel looking for the caterpillars. Poking up less than an inch, the purplish, toothpick-shaped yartsa gompo stem is extremely difficult to spot---but the caterpillars are worth more than all their yaks combined. In Chinese medicine shops throughout Asia, chong cao is sold as a cure-all for the ravages of aging, for health issues ranging from infection to inflammation, fatigue to phlegm to cancer. Displayed in climate-controlled glass cases, the highest quality caterpillars sell for nearly $80 a gram, which is about twice the price of today's gold. The Tibetan closes his treasure box and tucks it into the side of his tent. Before we depart, he insists we have one more cup of burning yak butter tea.” [Ibid]

“As we ride off across the high plains, I am struck by the irony of this new commerce along the old Tea Horse Road. Tibetans no longer ride horses, and tea is no longer the primary drink in urban Tibet (Red Bull and Budweiser are everywhere). And yet, just as tea still comes from traditional regions of China, chong cao can be found only on the Tibetan Plateau. Shoes and shampoos, TVs and toasters may be pouring westward along the paved portions of the ancient trade route, but something is going back east. Today the Chinese are willing to pay as dearly for magic caterpillars as they once did for invincible horses.”

Parts from Endangered Animals and Chinese Medicine

Parts from endangered animals include musk deer sent glands, bear bile, seal penises, bear's gall bladders, tiger bone, and rhinoceros horn, Endangered Asian barred owls, hawks and other owls are made into a soup which is supposed to improve eyesight Endangered Imperial eagles feathers are rubbed on skin.

20080311-njtrader2 chengdu aapa.jpg
Selling animal parts
on the street in Chengdu
The skin of Malayan tapirs is consumed to remove boils and ward off infection. Macaque flesh is taken as a malaria treatment and a cure for lassitude. Leopard fat, elephant eyeballs, porcupine stomachs, wild boar teeth, monkey paws, civet glands, rabbit skulls, and otter penises are also consumed for medicinal purposes. In markets in Guangzhou you can see other rare cats, such as leopard cats, on sale as food. The bones from snow leopards and golden cats are used as a tiger bone substitute in some medicines.

If anything the market is expanding as wealthy consumers in China get more numerous and richer and continue to buy foods and traditional medicines made illegally from rare species, such as the pangolin and tiger. Parts from endangered animals are not just sold in Asia. A survey of pharmacies in Chinatowns in seven cities in Europe and North America found that many sold products made with parts of endangered animals. Bear bile, for example, is sold at pharmacies in Britain.

The illegal animal trade is worth $10 billion a year, possibly twice that. It is increasingly being controlled by organized crime as evidenced by the record seizures. China is the largest market

Fakes are often passed off as parts from endangered animals. For example, pig gallbladders are often sold as bear gallbladders and camel bones are passed off as tiger bones.

Synthetic versions of active chemicals in endangered animals are now marketed, but many consumers prefer the genuine articles. "It's like asking, 'What do you think about the difference between a natural diamond and an artificial diamond?’---an Oriental medicine doctor told the New York Times. "Is it the same thing?

Book: Tiger Bone and Rhino Horn, the Destruction of Wildlife for Traditional Chinese Medicine by Richard Ellis (Island Press, 2004)

Pangolin Threatened by Chinese Medicine Trade

Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Once widespread, the shy and defenseless anteater is being vacuumed up for sale largely in China, where many believe it can cure an array of ailments and boost sexual prowess...Ground into powder, pangolin scales are believed to cure rheumatism and skin diseases, reduce swellings, promote lactation for breast-feeding mothers and alleviate other medical problems. Even if it works, conservationists say, proven substitutes are available that wouldn't devastate a species.” [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, September 14, 2011]

From fields and forests to Chinese cooking pots and medicine vials, the industrial-scale trade is propelled along similar trafficking routes for tigers, turtles, bears, snakes and other mostly endangered species across Asia, all driven by a seemingly insatiable demand for often dubious medical remedies, tonics and aphrodisiacs. "We are watching a species just slip away," says Chris Shepard, who has tracked wildlife trafficking in Asia for two decades. He says a 100-fold increase is needed in efforts to save the pangolin, sometimes described as a walking pine cone.

Pangolin Trade in Asia

Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “The last stand of the four Asian species has shrunk to Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, Palawan in the southern Philippines and parts of Malaysia and India. Conservationists first took serious notice in the 1990s when massive harvesting in China and its borderlands, driven by skyrocketing prices, was sweeping southwards, decimating the slow-breeding animals in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. "In many places, hunters tell us they don't even look for them any more," Shepherd says. [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, September 14, 2011]

By the early 2000s, supplies in Thailand were drying up, as evidenced by the development of an unusual barter trade: Thai smugglers would give insurgents in Indonesia's Aceh province up to five AK-47 rifles in exchange for one pangolin, according to the International Crisis Group, which monitors conflicts globally.

The pangolin trade - banned in 2002 by CITES, the international convention on endangered species - resembles a pyramid. At the base are poor rural hunters, including workers on Indonesia's vast palm oil plantations. They use dogs or smoke to flush the pangolins out or shake the solitary, nocturnal animals from trees in often protected forests."Everything is against them. ... They have no teeth. Their only defense is to roll up in a ball that fits perfectly into a bag," Shepherd says. Under stress, pangolins can develop stomach ulcers and die.

Middlemen set up buying stations in rural areas and deliver the animals through secretive networks to the less than dozen kingpins in Asia suspected of handling the international connections. Factories in Sumatra butcher the pangolins, slitting their throats, then stripping off and drying the valuable scales.

The smuggling routes almost all end in China, Shepherd says. Other destinations include Vietnam, the top wildlife consuming nation in Southeast Asia, and South Korea. Pangolins from Indonesia are sent to mainland Southeast Asia, then trucked up the Thai-Malaysian peninsula through Thailand and Laos to southern China. Chinese fishing boats ferry those from the Philippines directly to home ports. Smugglers in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah ship theirs to Vietnam's seaport of Haiphong or to mainland Malaysia to join the trucking routes. From India, they pass overland through Nepal and Myanmar.

Efforts to Help Threatened Pangolins

Preservation efforts focus on strengthening often lackluster law enforcement in the region. "Everything is now set up to stop this from happening. The laws are good enough to put traders out of business and into jail," Shepherd says. "It boils down to corruption and enforcement agencies not having the will to act. Wildlife trafficking is still generally not taken seriously." [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, September 14, 2011]

Weighed against the profits, the penalties for trafficking are low. Not long ago, an entire pangolin could be bought in Indonesia for $5 or less. Panjaitan, the Indonesian official, says just the scales from an average-sized animal now go for about $275. The scales fetch up to $750 a kilogram ($340 a pound) in China.Panjaitan, the director of Investigation and Forest Protection in the Ministry of Forestry, hopes Indonesia will greatly stiffen its jail term this year for major forest encroachment - directly linked to harvesting of pangolins and other wildlife - to a maximum of 20 years.

Although seizures and arrests of low-level smugglers have increased substantially, almost none of the major players have been put behind bars. And as Asian stocks vanish, Africa's three pangolin species have emerged as substitutes - a similar pattern to other traditional Chinese medicines, such as subbing lion bones for those of the now rare tiger.

Still, Steven Galster, executive director of Bangkok-based FREELAND, a group fighting wildlife and human trafficking, points to some progress. Suspecting that a private zoo was a cover for wildlife trafficking, Thai officials charged Daoruang Kongpitakin in July with illegal possession of two leopards. Her brother and sister had been arrested several times for pangolin smuggling.

Wildlife investigators are also tracking a shadowy company in Southeast Asia, which wields influence with both senior Lao and Vietnamese officials and could be among the region's biggest traffickers. ASEAN-WEN, a wildlife enforcement network of the 10 Southeast Asian nations, has also notched successes since its 2005 inception. Such developments across several countries could be a game changer, Galster says. "But will they move fast enough for the species to survive?"

Pangolin Seizures

Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “As the 20 cardboard boxes bound for China rolled through the X-ray machine at Jakarta's airport, Indonesian customs officials suspected what was inside didn't match what was declared. Instead of fresh fish, a closer look revealed the meat and scales of the most illegally trafficked mammal in Asia: the pangolin.” [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, September 14, 2011]

Eight tons of meat and scales, worth $269,000, were found in the boxes at Jakarta airport and at a warehouse raided the following day. Four people were arrested. "I am trying hard to win the war," says Brig. Gen. Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, Indonesia's top wildlife police officer, citing the July seizure. But he lists a host of obstacles: poverty, corruption, an inadequate force and weak international cooperation.

Laws that Protect Endangered Animals

In 1993, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) warned China and Taiwan, the two countries where the trade in tiger and rhino parts is most prevalent, to take steps to shut down the trade or face trade sanctions. In response, Chinese authorities said they would assign 40,000 people to enforce laws protecting endangered animals. Conservationist say that Taiwan and China would do just enough to stave off sanctions and then allow the market to resume business.

The CITES treaty has been signed by 130 nations. It protects 25,000 species and enforces bans on a number of items including tiger bones, rhinoceros horns, musk glands and bear gall bladders.

Korea had hoped for exemption on seven species---musks, bears, tigers, pangolins, turtles, mink whales and Bryde's whales.

The politics of the sanctions on endangered animals is tricky. Why, for example, are sanctions imposed for the mistreatment of tigers and not on the torture and imprisonment of Tibetans. There is also the issue of free trade. "Once you impose sanctions," a State department official asked, "then what?"

The U.S. has used a section of the U.S. Fisheries Protective Act known as the Pelly amendment to impose sanctions on nations whose acts hurts endangered species. The amendment was intended to curb the use of drift nets by Korea and Japan.

Image Sources: Weird Meat com; BBC and AFP; Wikipedia; AAPA; WWF; Save the Tiger; Wild Aid; Snowland Great Rivers Associiation; Wild Alliance.

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2011

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.