The boom in traditional Chinese medicine in Africa raises fears for endangered species – Radio Free Asia

A massive increase in the use of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products in a number of African countries in recent years is fueling demand for endangered species whose body parts are used to make certain ingredients, according to a recent report.

The Chinese government has stepped up the export and production of TCM products in Africa as part of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Global Connections campaign, with chains of TCM suppliers and clinics in across the continent, according to a report. from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

“The aggressive expansion of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in many African countries poses a direct threat to the future of some endangered species,” the group said in a statement.

Pangolin scales are in high demand in traditional Chinese medicine. (Associated Press)

EIA activist Ceres Kam said traditional medicine is an integral part of many cultures and plays an important role in global health care.

“However, while the majority of TCM treatments are herbal, some pharmaceutical companies continue to source ingredients from endangered animals, adding to the pressure on these species’ survival,” Kam said.

“Our very real concern is that such a significant expansion of TCM in Africa, as is happening under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, will dramatically increase demand for treatments containing wild species and, in turn, will lead to the disappearance of more threatened or extinct species,” she said.

“Any use of endangered species in TCM could potentially stimulate additional demand, incite wildlife crime and ultimately lead to overexploitation,” Kam warned.

Hong Kong writer and activist Riki Ueda, who volunteered for wildlife conservation in South Africa, agreed.

“The demand for traditional Chinese medicine will increase and the pressure on these animals will definitely increase,” she said, citing a recent increase in ivory poaching following the legalization of the existing ivory trade.

“Does the legal trade contribute to the illegal trade? The two seem to be developing in parallel…and the [legal trade] is likely to have a negative impact on the species and on the illegal wildlife trade. »

Ueda called for research to support replacing animal parts with herbal remedies throughout the practice of TCM.

Confiscated rhino horns (top) and ivory tusks are displayed during a press conference at Hong Kong Customs in 2013. A total of 1,120 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns and five pieces of skin leopard were found in a container from Nigeria.  (Reuters)
Confiscated rhino horns (top) and ivory tusks are displayed during a press conference at Hong Kong Customs in 2013. A total of 1,120 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns and five pieces of skin leopard were found in a container from Nigeria. (Reuters)

While the impact of the illegal ivory trade on elephants has been well documented, rhinos are another highly endangered species, with only around 25,000 rhinos in the wild.

“Since 2008, 5,940 rhinos have been hunted and killed in Africa,” Huang Lin-huang, a TCM doctor and former Taiwan health ministry official, told RFA. “Scientists believe this number is an underestimate.”

Now based at the Taiwanese embassy in Eswatini, Huang said he never believed in the efficacy of rhino horn powder, which was banned in China, before being legalized again in 2018. .

“I never believed it had any special healing effects,” Huang said. “People believe rhino horn can reduce fever, but salicylic acid can reduce fever.”

“Even water poplar bark can do this…this amplification of superstitions and traditional uses of rhino horn has contributed to disaster for rhinos,” he said.

Hundreds of rhinos killed

According to the latest statistics from South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, poachers killed 394 rhinos in the whole of 2020. But that number rose to 249 in the past month alone. first half of 2021.

In Botswana, at least 100 rhinos have been killed by poachers in the past three years since President Mokgweetsi Masisi took office in 2018 and disarmed anti-poaching teams, stripping them of their right to kill poachers in Botswana. seen.

According to Ueda, the illegal trade in powdered rhino horn has gotten smarter to cover its tracks, and many operations now grind the horn into powder and disguise it as beads or other substances before shipping it to East Asia. ‘East.

To combat poaching, the horn of this black rhino in Kenya was cut off and a tracking device was fitted to the animal to monitor its movements.  Illegally poached rhino horn brings in large sums of money.  (AFP)
To combat poaching, the horn of this black rhino in Kenya was cut off and a tracking device was fitted to the animal to monitor its movements. Illegally poached rhino horn brings in large sums of money. (AFP)

“These professional poachers are well-trained and can cut rhino horns in minutes,” Huang said.

“In South Africa you can get up to six years for manslaughter, but up to 15 for killing a rhino, and yet the [poachers] are not discouraged…because of the huge profits at stake,” he said.

And there are fears that poaching gangs are also infiltrating conservation organisations.

Ueda, who has volunteered at a South African nature reserve, said reserve staff were very careful about sharing information about rhinos with her.

“Some staff members were more cautious with me at the start of my assignment or were unwilling to talk to me at all,” she said.

“Sometimes they would make jokes about ‘you Asians come and poach our rhinos,'” she said.

For Ueda, the key is educating people at home about the harm their medications are doing.

“Buyers’ ignorance and indifference to wild animals is the first target of education,” she said. “It is the request of [East] Asia killing wildlife in Africa, so we can’t just sit back and watch this happen.”

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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