Asianscientist (Aug. 18, 2011) – Wildlife experts are meeting in Geneva this week to discuss the escalating crisis facing rhinos and elephants due to the increased levels of poaching and the growing illegal ivory and rhino horn trade.
The 61st meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is taking place from August 15-19 this week in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Elephants and rhinos are at the front of our minds in going to this meeting,” said Dr. Colman O’Criodain, WWF International’s policy analyst on wildlife trade issues.
CITES has identified Vietnam as a major destination for illegal horn products, while China and Thailand have been highlighted as the two biggest ivory consumers in the world.
Thailand, which is also the host country for the next CITES meeting, has been told to put in place controls to curtail its illegal ivory trade.
Rhino horn has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and according to TCM theories, rhino horns can be used to treat many disorders, including typhoid fever, convulsions, macular problems, and carbuncle (a type of skin infection).
In a Discovery News interview, Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society explained that the increasing wealth in East Asia has been a core driver in the acceleration of the ivory and horn trade’s growth in recent years.
“People have more money now to afford high-value wildlife products and also provide better infrastructure to access wild areas,” Bennett said.
However, a very important rhino ally could not have presented herself at a more timely moment.
In a letter to the CITES meeting, Lixin Huang, President of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) and President of Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM), the professional organization that represents fifty-two acupuncture and Oriental medicine colleges across the United States, wrote that rhino horn has no place in TCM.
Explaining that TCM is based on medicine that is ecologically sustainable, Huang pledged the support of her affiliated colleges for rhino conservation.
“Balance is a central principle of ecology, as well – that each living organism has an ongoing and continual relationship with every other element that makes up its environment. TCM also supports this principle, focusing on the importance of being in balance with nature and how this balance affects our health and well-being,” she said.
According to her, some modern practitioners of TCM have misinterpreted the medicinal uses of rhino horn, harming the practice of TCM and conservation efforts. She explained that the current increase in rhino poaching is due to the wrong belief that rhino horn can cure cancer.
She described how the Chinese government had banned the use of rhino horns in TCM in 1993 and removed them from Chinese pharmacopeia in favor of substitutes.
“Rhino horn is no longer approved for use by the TCM profession and there is no traditional use, nor any evidence for the effectiveness of, rhino horn as a cure for cancer,” she stated.
Huang and her colleagues are working to try to change the notions of the importance of wildlife parts in TCM.
“Based on the principle of harmonious development of human beings and nature, ACTCM has worked for many years to encourage rhino and tiger conservation, through raising awareness of the imperiled status of these species as well as supporting the national and international laws banning the use of and trade in their parts,” she added.
Citing increased levels of rhino poaching in South Africa this year, Huang hoped that the numbers would not reach 2010 record levels where 333 rhinos were killed in the country.
“If rhinos are to continue to survive, we must do all that we can to protect them,” she urged.
Source: WWF; Photo: WWF-Canon/Folke Wulf.
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