Medicine and endangered species

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The unsustainable harvesting and illegal trading of rich and varied plant and animal life to make medicine has endangered valuable species. Though most of it is used for making traditional medicines, modern medicines and remedies increasingly contain animal and plant derivatives. The growth in world population, the increasing popularity of traditional and natural remedies and shrinking habitats has put a number of plant and animal species at risk.

[edit] Why should I be aware of this?

  • The use of plants for medicinal purposes represents the largest use of biodiversity in the world.
  • With many more species of plants being used as medicines, than for food, focusing on medicinal plants has the potential for involving people more widely in conservation issues.
  • While China looks to expand the global market for its traditional medicines, conservationists are trying to ensure that won't mean a greater threat to tigers, rare plants and other endangered wildlife often used in the remedies.
  • Two reports from TRAFFIC, the world's largest wildlife trade monitoring network, on traditional medicine systems in Cambodia and Vietnam suggest that illegal wildlife trade, including entire tiger skeletons, and unsustainable harvesting is depleting the region's rich and varied biodiversity and putting the primary healthcare resource of millions at risk. [1]
  • A common feature of folk medicines is that they use many more plant species than the more scholarly systems.
  • Of the 7,500 species recorded as being used medicinally in India, for example, fewer than 20 percent are used in Ayurveda. Similarly, of about 11,000 species used in China, only about 5 percent are commonly used in traditional Chinese Medicine.

[edit] All about medicine and endangered species

A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that medicines derived from plants and animals meets the primary health care needs of close to 80% of the world’s population, most of whom live in countries where traditional medicines are widely used.[2].

[edit] Medicine and endangered animals

The healing of human ailments by using therapeutics based on medicines obtained from animals or ultimately derived from them is known as zootherapy. The use of animals for medicinal purposes is part of a body of traditional knowledge which is increasingly becoming more relevant to discussions on conservation biology, public health policies, sustainable management of natural resources, biological prospecting, and patents.

  • Tiger--In TCM the bones of the tiger are used for making medicines to treat arthritis and other joint ailments. Conservation experts believe that the trade in tiger bones for medicinal purposes was a major factor behind the tiger conservation crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Rhinoceros --Decocted rhinoceros horn is used in TCM to treat fever, convulsions, and delirium. Its popularity has been a major factor in the reduction of the rhinoceros population in Africa and Asia.
  • Musk dear -- Musk from the musk deer is the basis of some 300 TCM prescriptions, of various remedies in Western homeopathic medicine, and of some perfumes.
  • Bear -- Bear bile is used in TCM to treat a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, including liver ailments and headaches. Because of the significant reduction in the population of wild Asiatic black bears that has resulted, bear farming was introduced in China in 1984

[edit] Medicine and endangered plants

Many plants such as the have either become endangered or are already endagered due to their widespread and unmonitored use in traditional medicine. The orchid species is one such example.

About 5000 different herbs and roots are used in TCM, but only 200 of them are currently being cultivated. At the same time, the list of endangered plants is growing, as demand outstrips growth. Saline cistanche, found only in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, has long been used in TCM. It is used to treat kidney problems, coxalgia, indigestion, and research shows that it is also effective against old age dementia. Traditional medicine can be classified into three categories.

  1. Shamanistic medicine -- This is a more spiritual form of medicine. Shamans use the plants to make these medicines.
  2. Folk medicine -- This is passed from generation to generation orally. It is found in all parts of the world, especially Africa.
  3. Scholarly medical systems -- These are well represented in Asia and include: traditional Chinese medicine; Kampo, or traditional Japanese medicine; Tibetan and Mongolian medicine, both based on Buddhist philosophy; Ayurveda used widely in India; and Unani, an Islamic medical tradition.

Folk medicine uses the most species of plants as compared to the other systems.

Some plant species which have become endangered are:

  • Snow Lotus -- Snow lotus is widely known and appreciated for its beautiful blossom, which comes out only once at the end of its lifetime, after at least seven years growth! Its petals are deemed effective against arthritis, menstrual pain or complications in pregnancy. Prices are high, due to the long time it takes them to bloom and the fact that they grows only in the eastern Himalayas, which makes them difficult to collect. Today, all different kinds of Snow lotus are severely threatened by extinction. Moreover, the sensitive ecosystem of the Himalayas has been harmed people harvesting the Snow lotus. Only effective protection and cultivation efforts will prevent the Snow lotus from dying out completely.
  • Pacific Yew -- Pacific yew, a "trash" evergreen found in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, have been cleared to make way for tree species profitable to the timber industry

[edit] Medicine and endangered species and the environment

The unsustainable and unmonitored use of animal parts and plants for medicinal purposes has endangered many species.

The endangerment of animals such as the tiger has threatened the ecosystem, the biodiversity of the planet and the food chain. The unplanned harvesting of plants has also led to desertification i.e. the transformation of arable or habitable land to desert, which incidentally is one of the biggest environmental problems facing China. One of the main reasons for desertification in China is the harvesting of medical herbs in sensitive areas. Not only natives but thousands of jobless people from all over the country roam the northern regions in order to earn a meager living by collecting plants like Cistanche deserticola or digging up liquorice roots. About one hectare of land has to be dug up to harvest one kilogram of these roots, and the land is then basically lost, as grass will hardly grow afterwards.

[edit] What can we do?

We must work together to develop new global standards that will guide modern and traditional medicine markets away from endangered species toward more environmentally healthy alternatives.

[edit] CopperBytes

  • The Madagascar periwinkle, found in a country that has lost 80 percent of its vegetation, provides two potent compounds used in the treatment of cancer by western system of medicine.
  • In Vietnam, we estimate between 5-10 tiger skeletons are sold annually to be used in traditional medicine. [1]
  • Over 800 types of plants--approximately 35 percent of the country's native species--are used in Traditional Khmer Medicine. Eight of those plants species are considered high priority for national conservation.
  • Taxol, a drug used to treat ovarian cancer, comes from the Pacific yew.

[edit] References

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine and Endangered Animals
  • Healthy people - healthy wildlife
  • Medicine and Endangered Species --- Endangered Plants and Desertification


  • [1]
  • Animals and their products utilized as medicines by the inhabitants surrounding the Ranthambhore National Park, India

[edit] Source

  1. 1.0 1.1 Rare Plants And Endangered Species Such As Tigers At Risk From Traditional Medicine
  2. From Fields to Pharmaceuticals