What’s Going On Here?

High profile supporters and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, also known as TCM, have said its future is untenable if it continues to rely on the trade of endangered animals, which has been pointed to as a likely source of Covid-19.

What Does This Mean?

TCM is an ancient system of health and wellness that’s been used in China for thousands of years (since the Third Century BC to be precise!). It encompasses many things, including acupuncture therapies, eating habits and exercise.But it is the pharmaceutical side of TCM—which uses body parts of endangered animals such as rhinos, tigers and pangolins in its ingredients— that is facing renewed criticism.Though this destructive practice has long been criticised, a high profile supporter of TCM – Dr Lixing Lao, president of the Virginia University of Integrative Medicine – has said that its association with the destruction of wildlife and disregard for animal welfare and biodiversity could destroy its reputation for good.

TCM might be a billion dollar industry in China (by the end of 2020 it is estimated to be worth about $420bn) with formal approval into the the global compendium of medical practices by the World Health Organization last year, but its association with the Covid-19 outbreak and the decimation of endangered species could spell its doom.

Why Should We Care?

In some cases, poaching animals to use their body parts for traditional medicine is the primary reason why an animal faces a risk of extinction.TCM is essentially on a collision course with wildlife preservation.This is the case for pangolins. More than a million of our small ant-eating friends have been poached between 2000 and 2013 for their scales, which are said to help with arthritis and other ailments. Rhinos and tigers, who are sought after for their horns and bones, have also suffered major losses. And there is scant scientific evidence to suggest that these treatments are effective.

Wildlife plays an important role in balancing the environment. When a species becomes extinct it can impact the demise of other species down the line, setting off a chain of ecosystem destruction. Humans are dependent on a healthy ecosystem for our survival; among many other essential things it purifies the air, sequesters carbon for climate regulation and cycles nutrients so we have access to clean water.

Be Curious!

  • The popularity of traditional Chinese medicine is growing in the West and there are sustainable options out there.  If you buy it, make sure to ask retailers for evidence that the medicine they sell only contains ingredients that were collected sustainably. 
  • For more information on the wildlife trade, follow the work of TRAFFIC, a leading organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. 
  • Support campaigns that seek to protect endangered species like the Wildlife Conservation Trust and Tusk. 

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