For centuries, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has called on a number of animal and plant based products to help treat and cure a number of common ailments. This method of treatment differs from the Western medicine many of us have grown up with.
Rather than relying on manufactured pharmaceuticals, TCM uses natural ingredients and considers the entire person in treatment, not just a singular symptom. It’s used in countries around the world and performed by thousands of practitioners, including many in the United States. Although there are certainly benefits to TCM, one glaring downside is the use of animal ingredients, specifically animal parts of endangered or threatened species.
Some of the animals used in TCM are killed or captured by poachers, while others are bred in captivity. For years, wildlife advocates and conservationists have been urging their respective governments to pass legislation in an effort to aid these animals. For example, importing bear bile for the treatment of inflammation-related ailments was ruled illegal under the Bear Protection Act of 2009 to protect endangered sun and moon bears in Asia.
Although some practitioners insist they no longer use animal ingredients in their products, studies have revealed mislabeling is rampant and often deliberate, leaving consumers in the dark. Most consumers would likely find these claims of abuse disturbing and barbaric, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this topic is greatly unreported.
In 2014, a law was passed in China to increase the severity of penalties and length of jail time for anyone knowingly purchasing or consuming animals that had been poached. Similar legislation has been passed in other countries. Still, bear bile farms, tiger farms, and the use of other endangered animals for use in TCM continue to be on the rise.
1. Bear Bile
More than 10,000 bears are kept on bile farms in China and an additional 2,000 are held in Vietnam. Bears used in this industry are bred and confined to life in small “crush cages,” forced to suffer through painful and invasive procedures to have bile extracted from their gall bladder.
Bear bile is believed to help reduce inflammation, expel toxins, improve symptoms of conjunctivitis and hepatitis, and cure headaches. Although bear bile has been known to alleviate the symptoms of some conditions, there are many other, inexpensive herbal alternatives that don’t require the abuse of an animal.
2. Tiger Bone
Almost every part of the tiger is considered sacred and thought to be capable of healing in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Tiger bone, one of the most prized parts of the animal, is ground up and used to treat arthritis and other joint ailments, as well as impotence.
Many have compared the effects of tiger bone to taking a generic aspirin.
Although the use of tiger bone in traditional medicine has decreased in recent years, the demand for tiger bone elsewhere has never been higher. Tiger bone or entire skeletons are soaked in wine and considered a status symbol abroad amongst the elite.
An estimated 1,000 tigers have been killed for their parts in the past 10 years to meet demands in Asia. Considering the fact that there are only around 3,200 tigers left in the wild, this is no small loss.
3. Rhino Horn
Rhinoceros horn is thought to treat fever, convulsions and hallucinations. The horn is composed of keratin, one of the main components of our fingernails. With seemingly no evidence to show rhino horn will benefit health or cure any ailments, a doctor in London ironically compared ingesting rhino horn for health benefits to “chewing on your own nails.”
The illegal wildlife trade is one of the leading causes behind the decimation of all rhino populations as these animals are exclusively poached for their horns.
In 2014, 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone. The Western Black Rhino has already been declared extinct from the wild and many other species are set to follow if we don’t put an end to the illegal trade.
4. Pangolin Scales
The pangolin is the most illegally trafficked animal in the world. Although the pangolin is eaten as a delicacy, it’s also believed to have medicinal value. It’s thought that the pangolin can enhance kidney function, cure asthma and improve signs of psoriasis. Dried pangolin scales are thought to produce lactation and improve blood flow.
Nearly one million pangolins have been poached in the past 10 years. At this rate, this little scaly creature may be poached into oblivion before most of the world is even aware that they exist.
5. Dried Seahorse
Dried seahorse is thought to treat impotence, abdominal pain, swelling, urinary incontinence and act as an aphrodisiac, but no reputable source has yet confirmed that any of these benefits exist. The placebo effect is more likely the culprit in this case.
It’s estimated that 150 million seahorses are traded and sold every year. Seahorses are a fragile species and there is concern that the species will no longer be able to maintain stability at the current rate at which they’re being harvested.