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Chinese Medicine Driving Rhinos to Extinction
Biologists and game park officials in South Africa say that rhinos are being slaughtered at the rate of one each day, and that most of these animals are killed to feed a demand for traditional Chinese medicines and cures.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 340 rhinos have been killed so far this year in South Africa, and the problem is getting worse. Last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature issued a report on endangered species, concluding that the western black rhino is now officially extinct. Two other species, the black and white rhinos, are also seriously endangered and could be gone from the wild within a few years.
The rhinos are being poached to extinction largely for their horns, which are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine. Sometimes the powder is added to food, or brewed in a tea, as some people believe that African rhino horns are a powerful aphrodisiac and panacea. These animals are not being killed for meat or to control their population, but because of misinformation and superstition.
It's not just rhinos that face this threat. Throughout Asia, the penises, claws and bones of various animals — including tigers, rhinos, and bears — are sold in folk medicine shops to cure everything from arthritis to asthma, impotence to cancer. Some people believe that tiger bones and claws can cure a variety of maladies, including back pain, arthritis and fatigue.
In July, officials along the border between Russia and China intercepted a truck carrying more than 1,000 bear claws and 26 elk lips — weighing 143 pounds in total — that were destined for medicine shops across Asia. The bears and elk were most likely left to bleed to death after their paws and lips were sliced off by the poachers.
Shark populations have also declined dramatically in recent years, due in part to the demand for shark fins, eaten as a delicacy and used in Chinese medicine. The live, but finless, sharks are often thrown back into the ocean to die.
There is no scientific evidence that any of these animal body parts treat or cure any disease or medical problem, but old beliefs die hard. The threat to Earth's biodiversity doesn't just come from pollution and human demand for food, and the extinction of the rhino reveals a dark side to belief in alternative medicines.
This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His website is http://www.BenjaminRadford.com.
The Chinese/Asian demand for old folk cures is costing us on the endangered species list. . . hell, when was the last time you saw a dragon in the wild?
Seriously though, this is the industry that's nearly wiped-out the Bengal Tiger all by itself NOT the wealthy white hunters of old. They are #2 when it comes to the Ivory & Tusk trade and so much more. I seriously turns my stomach and I've been reading articles on this issue for close to 30 years now and yet, we still see it happening. But there's more (one I just recently got into trouble over, when bringing it up at a New Age store) -- Gems & Crystals.
All the benevolent, "Nature Loving" folk of the New Age spiritual movement seem to ignore how much strip mining and other terra-destructive actions they are guilty of supporting. Go into any New Age store and count the number of crystals they have and the prices (trust me, the mark up on that stuff is insane. . . nearly as good as popcorn).
While I do support the more passive aspects of alternative health as well as herbology, I cannot support or ignore those factors that take from the planet in ways that are just as cancerous as any other mining or excessive hunting type practice. It's sinful, the fact that there are more of certain big cat species that are privately owned and managed than can be found in the wild and that's just one small part of this particular problem. It is something I get a bit vocal on when dealing with the New Age market however in that I loathe hypocrisy regardless of where it comes from.
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