Ten Threatened and Endangered Species Used in Traditional Medicine
The demand for alternative remedies has given rise to a poaching industry that, along with other factors, has decimated animal populations
By Joseph Stromberg and Sarah Zielinski
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The Grevy’s zebra once roamed across East Africa, but its population dropped from 25,000 in the 1970s to about 2,500 today. Humans killed the animals for their skins and to eliminate competition for water between the zebras and livestock. The zebras can now be found only in northern Kenya and a few parts of Ethiopia. The Kenyan government developed a plan in 2008 to conserve the remaining population. Included in the effort was the recognition of the need to work with traditional healers who use the zebra’s meat and fat to treat diseases such as tuberculosis.
While tigers originally lived across Asia, from Turkey to the eastern coast of Russia, their range has now dwindled to roughly a dozen countries in East and South Asia, and as few as 3,200 tigers may be left in the wild. Their decline is the result of the use of tiger skins, bones, teeth and claws in traditional medicine; they are believed to cure toothaches and protect against malicious curses, among other maladies. Criminal poaching syndicates can now get as much as $50,000 for the parts from a single tiger, and although international law bans the commercial trade of tigers, several countries permit the farming of tigers, further driving black-market demand.
The population of wild banteng, a species of cattle native to southeast Asia, is now estimated to be somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000, a decrease of more than 90 percent since the 1960s. While land development and agriculture pose grave problems for the endangered species, poaching is a continued and direct threat, driven by the market for their horns, coveted as hunting trophies and use in traditional remedies. In 2003, banteng became the first endangered species to be successfully cloned, and researchers hope to use this technology for conservation purposes in the future.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Although Hawksbill sea turtles can be found in environments ranging from the Caribbean Sea to the waters surrounding Indonesia, their numbers have dwindled to the point that they are now listed as critically endangered. Poachers hunt hawksbills for a number of reasons, including for their shells, which have been distributed worldwide as travel souvenirs and incorporated into jewelry and other decorative items and for their oil, whose use in traditional medicine has increased in recent years. Bans on trading turtle products and various sting operations have achieved limited success in stopping the species’ decline.
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