Wild Animals

Nowhere’s safe for the last of our big cats

February 6, 2019

There’s a roaring trade in big cats being used for traditional Asian medicine, and it’s clawing its way across the globe

Modern marvels

Facial transplants, bionic eyes and 3D printed body parts – the medical breakthroughs of recent years are nothing short of dazzling, mind boggling wonders.

People are living longer, survival rates are higher, and there are cures and remedies for so many illnesses. Modern medicine has given us many gifts, but at the same time, ancient remedies are still popular across Asia.

Traditional medicine

Plant-based traditional medicine has been used for many years, and will no doubt continue to be used for many more. Many herbal remedies are known to have curative properties and are popular with many communities around the world.

Having the choice to decide which treatment is right for you can only be a good thing – except when wildlife is involved.

A huge industry

It is estimated that the traditional Asian medicine industry is worth upwards of USD$50 to USD$1201 billion globally. Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO), endorsed the practice of traditional despite a surge of criticism.

Sadly, some of the traditional practices exploit wild animals, cause immense suffering, and are bringing numerous species to the brink of extinction despite little evidence to support its medicinal properties.

A tiger product on sale in China

The sinister side of tradition

Traditional Asian medicine is based on an entirely different concept to modern medicine, and, with about 2,000 years of history, is of immense importance to many people.

Most remedies don’t contain wild animal products, and often are entirely non-animal based, but there are some that do, and the cost to wildlife is unimaginable:

  • Bears are locked up in small cages their entire lives, having their bile painfully harvested from surgical openings in their abdomen
  • The last remaining rhinos are being brutally killed and their horns hacked off
  • Pangolins being captured and killed for their scales to be sold on the black market
  • Lions, tigers and other big cats are being poached and even farmed for their bones

This is completely unnecessary; there are synthetic and plant-based alternatives available for the ailments these products are being consumed for.

The global threat to big cats

Big cat numbers have been freefalling into oblivion over the last century. Wild tigers are just shy of 4,000. For lions, there’s about 20,000 left in the wild – down from about 200,000 a century ago.

Habitat loss, hunting and human wildlife conflicts are the main drivers of these declines, but another threat is the growing market for their body parts. Now that demand is outstripping supply in Asia, it has become a global issue.

Jaguars in Suriname

Last year, we revealed that, even thousands of miles away, in the small country of Suriname in South America, jaguars are being poached from the wild for this industry.

Their carcasses are boiled down into a paste, then smuggled into China in tubs, to supposedly treat the same ailments as tiger products, with a steep price tag attached.

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