As the population of the world increases, and traditional societies become more middle class, it puts greater pressure on all kinds of finite natural resources. Not just oil, coal and minerals, but also vegetation and wildlife.
Illegally killing endangered animals to sell their parts for use in traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) are pushing some species to the brink, the wild tiger being just one example.
Poaching to meet the consumer desire for various tiger body parts for traditional medicines is the biggest threat to this beautiful creature’s continued existence. We are not talking about opportunistic hunting here, but deliberate, large-scale operations with no respect for the special sanctuaries set aside to provide hope for the species. Poachers ignore these and hunt in even these most fragile, important havens, and have completely wiped out some tiger populations in these territories. It has become a business, and a lucrative, though short-sighted one. Once all the tigers are gone, what will they hunt then?
Some forward-thinking traders are storing tiger parts, waiting till the living populations are decimated, at which time, the prices for the stored parts will sky-rocket. It would be interesting to know how much of the current poaching kill is taken straight to market for use in the Chinese medicines, and how much is held back for the day when prices jump due to lack of availability.
For at least 1000 years, tiger bones have been used in traditional Chinese medicine. To help preserve wild populations, thought leaders in TCM are no longer advocating the use of tiger bones and parts, and scientists have identified alternative products which have been validated by scientific research studies sponsored by the Chinese government and embraced by ethical Chinese medicine practitioners.
The thirst for tiger parts has not abated, however. Bones, whiskers, teeth and claws are all highly prized, and there is also an increasing trade in the skins for clothing.
Make no mistake – international law forbids the trade in tiger parts and the sale of other endangered species.
The World Wildlife Fund is working desperately to stop the slaughter, but in countries such as India, where a lack of funds from business and Government means there is no support to prevent poaching in animal reserves, the tigers living in these reserves have been exterminated.
In Sumatra, about 40 tigers a year are killed, and the total population for this entire species is 400. They are facing extinction.
In other parts of Indochina, whole forests are now empty of wildlife.
An awareness of health and medicines is, of course, the best way to make sure a long, vital life. It’s important to be aware, though, of the impact of decisions we make when purchasing health goods. We need to make sure we are balancing our own emotional needs against our impact on the other living creatures we share the planet with. Seeking out or purchasing illegal goods for Chinese medicines, even in secret, supports an illegal, harmful industry, and such a negative, selfish choice must, by its very nature, have an impact on the well-being of our own physical body.
Katherine West is a health freak and freelance writer who in 2003 studied for a Diploma of Nutrition. She is also into yoga and pilates.