Unfounded Claims Of HIV Cure Spike Demand For Tokay Gecko In Southeast Asia
Health & Medicine
November 16, 2011
The medicinal demand for Tokay Geckos has skyrocketed in Southeast Asia, with animals over 300 g in weight in particular demand.
AsianScientist (Nov. 16, 2011) – Unfounded claims of a potential cure for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is one factor behind a boom in the trade of Tokay Geckos, according to a new report launched today by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
The Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko) is a nocturnal Asian lizard growing up to 40 cm in length and easily identified by its orange-spotted, blue-grey skin and unmistakable vocalizations.
The animals are popular in the global pet trade and have long been traded – both legally and illegally – for use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the belief they can cure various maladies including diabetes, asthma, skin disease and cancer.
In parts of Asia, Tokay wine or whisky is also consumed to increase strength and energy.
Between 1998 and 2002, more than eight and a half tons of dried Tokay Geckos were legally imported into the USA for use in traditional medicine. Huge numbers are traded within Asia, from countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, to meet demand, especially in China.
Recently, however, the medicinal demand for Tokay Geckos has skyrocketed, with dozens of new websites in Malaysia, a major hub of the trade, dedicated to buying and selling Tokay Geckos.
Messages have been circulating in online blogs, forums, newspaper articles, classified advertisements and amongst wildlife dealers in the region, extolling the consumption of Tokay Gecko tongue and internal organs as a cure for HIV and even cancer.
The geckos are being sourced across South-East Asia, especially the Philippines, where authorities have launched a crackdown on Tokay Gecko buyers amid growing reports of illegal trade in the animals.
One couple was recently arrested attempting to smuggle Tokay Geckos worth close to a million dollars from Thailand to Malaysia.
Indonesia exports an estimated 1.2 million dried Tokay Geckos from Java each year – the official export quota is 45,000 live animals, intended for the pet trade.
Two weeks ago, Customs officers in Central Java foiled an attempt to smuggle 6.7 tons of dried Tokay Geckos bound for Hong Kong and China using expired permits.
Unsurprisingly, there are anecdotal reports of major Tokay Gecko population declines in Java and this picture is likely to be mirrored elsewhere.
However, the Tokay Gecko remains poorly protected by national legislation throughout most of its range and is not listed for protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“TRAFFIC is alarmed at the massive increase in trade of these geckos,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
“If the trade continues to mushroom, it could take years to repair the damage currently being inflicted on gecko populations. Protection under CITES should urgently be considered as a stitch in time for the Tokay Gecko,” he said.
Source: TRAFFIC; Photo: Olivier Caillabet/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
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