Rhino, Tiger & Snow Leopard DNA Found In Traditional Chinese Medicines

The discovery of snow leopard DNA in over the counter Chinese treatments highlights the need to scrutinize the use of animal products in medicines.

AsianScientist (Feb. 18, 2016) – More should be done to stop the use of endangered species in traditional Chinese medicines, according to an Australian researcher. This comes with the revelation that snow leopard, tiger and rhinoceros DNA are still being found in remedies. The article was published in Forensic Science Medicine and Pathology.

Professor Roger Byard from the University of Adelaide School of Medicine has shown that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been identified as a significant driver of the illicit global wildlife trade. Furthermore, most of the policing surrounding the illegal trade is associated with species collection, leaving the use of animal products in medicines often overlooked.

According to Byard, some of the ways that animals or animal parts are used in TCM include rhinoceros horn used to ‘cure’ disorders ranging from cerebral hemorrhage to AIDS and selling for as much as US$50,000 per kilogram; the powdered bones of tigers and mole rats being used to treat arthritis; and shell extracts of freshwater turtles being used to treat cancer.

“The World Health Organization has suggested that 80 percent of people in developing countries rely on traditional medicines, and it has been estimated that 13 percent of TCMs contain animal derivatives.”

“Approximately 50 percent of the reptiles used in traditional medicines are on lists of threatened or endangered species. And the effectiveness of many of these animal products in treating disease has not been established,” he says.

Byard hopes to see more done to control the use of endangered and threatened animals in traditional medicines—wildlife crime has been estimated to cost between US$10 and 20 billion per year globally.

“While much of the crime involves the illegal collection of uncommon species, or the use of rare materials such as ivory and rhinoceros horn for decorative purposes, one area that is being largely overlooked is that of traditional medicines,” he noted.

Surprisingly, Byard pointed out, even a Chinese medicine product purchased over the counter in Adelaide, Australia, was found to contain traces of snow leopard.

“Clearly any controls on the importation and sale of such a preparation have failed. It is also uncertain what steps are taken by authorities once such a preparation is brought to their attention,” he said.

This illegal and very damaging trade needs to stop; however, unfortunately, for a number of species, it may already be too late, Byard added.

The article can be found at: Byard et al. (2016) Traditional Medicines and Species Extinction: Another Side to Forensic Wildlife Investigation.


Source: University of Adelaide; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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