Four species of Pangolin occur in Africa and four in Asia. All are threatened by the illegal wildlife trade. The meat is considered a delicacy in China and their scales are used to treat asthma and 'spirit possession'.
Approximately 150 million seahorses are harvested annually from the wild for use in TCM. Gram for gram they are more valuable than silver and almost as valuable as gold. They are used to 'promote growth, reduce obesity and as an aphrodisiac'.
Rhinoceros horn has been used for millennia to treat fevers, convulsions, haemorrhaging and to cleanse the blood. It is made of keratin (the same material as hair and fingernails) and has no proven medical efficacy. Nowadays, the highest demand comes from affluent individuals in Vietnam to demonstrate social status.
Chinese Giant Salamander
The critically endangered Chinese Giant Salamander is—at 1.8m long—the largest amphibian in the world, capable of regenerating body parts, and ranked No.2 on the EDGE list of endangered amphibians. In China they are considered a delicacy, and again are used in traditional medicine.
Six subspecies of tiger are recognised, all are endangered. Almost every part of the body including the nose leather, eye-balls and penis are used to treat a diversity of ailments—from malaria and meningitis to insomnia, erectile dysfunction and paralysis.
Photo by Photo by Denise Allison Coyle / Shutterstock
The meat and organs of the critically endangered Chinese alligator are believed to cure the common cold and cancer. Their range has reduced to just the provinces of Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangsu near the Yangtze River in China.
The bile of sun bears is highly valued as a treatment for a range of ailments including haemorrhoids, sprains, epilepsy, gallstones and liver damage. Listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, wild populations occur across mainland Southeast Asia, Sumatra and Borneo. Over 12,000 bears are farmed in China and Vietnam. The bile is removed twice per day by inserting a catheter tube through a permanent incision in the abdomen and gall bladder. Surplus bile is used in throat lozenges, shampoo, toothpaste, wine and tea.
The extraordinary tusk of the narwhal is used in TCM to treat fever, pleurisy, measles, pain and venereal disease. They are native to Arctic waters where they have been hunted for millennia by Inuit communities who eat their frozen skin and blubber in a traditional meal known as Muktuk.
In TCM the consumption of big cat body parts is believed to impart the animal’s great strength. The claws, teeth and bones of clouded leopards are usually sourced as a substitute for tiger products and the pelts are traded as decorative items.
Musk is collected from the glands of six species of musk deer that inhabit the Himalayas. It has been harvested for more than 5,000 years—prized as one of the most precious raw materials in perfumery. It is used in TCM to treat seizure disorders, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, meningitis, measles and gastroenteritis. Gram for gram, musk is one of the most valuable products in nature and can be worth three times more than its weight in gold.
To date scientists have managed to isolate over 12,000 different plant compounds, hundreds of which are utilised in modern medicine. In stark contrast, not one single useful compound has ever been identified in the body parts of the endangered species that are hunted for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Even so, TCM remains a form of healthcare trusted by over one-quarter of the world’s population, fueling the third most profitable black-market trade in goods after narcotics and arms smuggling. Sadly, despite much protest from western governments, wildlife charities and the general public alike, the practice continues largely unabated. Here are 10 animals that are still being hunted for debunked healing properties.