Exotic Animals As Food And Medicine
M. Davidson and Z. Raffin
The Chinese have systematically abused native species in their use of them as a form of both food and medicine. This has lead to an extreme situation in which many of China’s beloved species, including those with which they have named calendar years, are critically endangered. The Chinese have consistently placed economic gain over environmental health, and their use and abuse of these animals is further evidence of this fact.
The Chinese ecosystem is hugely threatened by the illegal trade in wildlife used for feasting; and considering the growing Chinese middle-class, the future for these animals looks bleak. The rise of consumerism in China has augmented the demand for luxury animal-based products, and even though many animal populations are being eaten into extinction, this buying trend will persist as long as the multi-billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade continues to thrive.
The use of native, exotic species as a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine has placed a significant strain on the abilities of these animals to co-exist with humans in today’s world. These animals are used in a wide variety of products that claim to heal ailments ranging from heart problems to erectile dysfunction. The perceived wide scope of these medicines perpetuates a culture that turns a blind eye to the atrocities these animals are facing on a daily basis, from farming to poaching.
Tigers have been affected massively by the demand for their meat as a delicacy as well as their perceived medical benefits as used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Tiger meat is a highly priced commodity, selling at $150 per kilo. Tigers are usually dined upon by China’s upper class as a status symbol, meaning that those in power continue to perpetuate the Tiger trade by their continual eating of the animal along with the cultural implications that arise as a result.
Tiger bone is highly valued as well, selling at prices up to $375 per kilo. Tiger bone is used mainly to treat Rheumatism, or arthritis, meaning that its perceived applications are in high demand given the large amount of people who suffer from the disease.
A 2016 census found that about 3,900 tigers were living in the wild, which was significantly reduced from the 5,700 tigers reported in a 1998 census. This statistic is troubling, for there is an estimated 8,000 tigers living on tiger farms throughout China. The fact that China’s tiger population is larger on farms, where there sole purpose is economic value, is quite troubling.
Yellow= Tigers natural habitat, Green= modern range
Pangolin are considered to be the world’s most highly trafficked mammal. Given the wide scope of the Pangolin trade, estimates are subjective at best, but some believe that upwards of 1 million Pangolin are trafficked annually.
Pangolin meat is highly regarded in China, and Pangolin’s are dined upon. One of the main drivers of Pangolin consumption as a form of food is the Pangolin scales market.
Pangolin scales, which are made of keratin, are widely regarded as having immense value in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Pangolin scales are ground into a powder and used by practitioners to treat a wide variety of ailments. It is because of this lucrative trade in the scales of the Pangolin that Pangolin meat is consumed at such an astounding volume, for those who are engaging in the illicit trade attempt to squeeze all of the economic value they can out of the animal. It is because of all of this that the Pangolin is critically endangered.
Map illustrating Pangolin’s natural range
Bears are an animal that, while consumed as food on occasion, are mostly killed or produced as a form of medicine throughout China.
Traditional Chinese Medicine values bears extremely highly, specifically the gallbladder of the Asiatic Brown, Black, Sun, and Sloth bear. Bears produce an excessive amount of UDCA, a specific acid stored in the gallbladder. It is because of this that bears are farmed, just as tigers are. This cruel practice often times finds bears being shoved in to tiny cages as to compress their gallbladders, while inserting a splint into their stomachs so as the UDCA can drip down and be harvested. Whole bear gallbladders sell on the open market for anywhere between $3,200 and $5,000 a gram, making the illicit trade quite lucrative.
Many of China’s native bear species are endangered, yet China allows for legal bear farming on their home soil, further proving the point that they simply do not care about their domestic environments or species.
The Chinese giant salamander, weighing up to fifty kilograms and measuring nearly two meters long, is earth’s largest amphibian. Today, however, they are critically endangered, yet still ending up on Chinese dinner plates. The Chinese Giant Salamander, while not used as medicine, is one of the delicacies gorged upon by the Chinese in feasting practices. The Chinese Giant Salamander is hunted and poached on a wide scale. This is evidenced by a census conducted by researchers, who found a mere 27 Chinese Giant Salamander across 97 sites where they were previously known to be located. This is obviously problematic, for if the superlative species in terms of size becomes extinct, we are killing crucial aspects of bio-diversity that affect ecosystems in largely unknown ways, until its too late.
The Chinese government has taken steps to address the problem. China’s Ministry of Agriculture supports the release of farmed salamanders back into the wild, and thousands are released annually. This however, only further adds tension to the creature’s ecosystem. The Chinese giant salamander, previously believed to be just one species, may actually be as many of five distinct lineages that, due to isolated locales, developed independently over many millions of years. When salamanders are released into an inappropriate environment, or contain genetics from other salamander species, they may not be able to thrive in all of China’s freshwater streams.
The use of exotic animals as both food and medicine throughout China runs rampant. The Chinese government has turned a blind eye to these practices, and the international community has been put on notice. These animals deserve a fair chance to survive, and the quasi-legal nature of these industries in China works directly against that. We hope that in researching and reporting on these topics that we can shed some light on the atrocities these animals face.