Pangolins are hunted for use in ancient Chinese medicine, but there are many natural alternatives, the use of which could protect these unique mammals from extinction
Pangolins are hunted for their meat, keratin rich scales, blood, and fetuses. Because they are believed to be a sign of social status and contain many medicinal properties these nocturnal creatures are being hunted, slaughtered and sold in the black market by the tons. Ancient Chinese medical practitioners have used all these parts of the Pangolin in a variety of medicinal recipes for thousands of years proclaiming they treat illnesses. In an effort to raise awareness, and eliminate the unnecessary trafficking of these historic mammals, there have been many discoveries of other herbs that work as well or better to treat the same illnesses. So why not use the natural alternatives?
Traditional Chinese Medicine
“The earliest evidence of the traditional Chinese medicine used today dates back to the Shang Dynasty, from 1600 to 1100 B.C. The practice relies heavily on time-tested remedies passed down through the centuries….philosophy of balance between yin and yang”. (2).
Since Pangolin scales “Chuan Shan Jia San” are listed as an official drug in the Chinese Pharmacopeia as of 2010 and is used in a combination with other herbs to help relieve ailments it can be hard to change practitioners and patients minds to use other alternatives. In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) its basic functions are to promote blood flow to resolve masses, stimulate the menstrual flow to promote lactation, reduce swelling and discharge pus…due to blood stasis, abdominal mass, pain in rheumatoid arthritis, breast milk stoppage, sores and furuncle, scrofula, cramps in the hands and feet, and numbness in the extremities.(1).
Not all practitioners are still in agreement with the ancient practices. In fact Yao Gong Zhong professor of history and philosophy of science at the Central South University in Hunan disagrees with the ancient practices and is at the forefront of the anti-traditional Chinese medicine controversy. (2). He believes that for many of the patients the pain is not physical but psychological and that the practitioners often concoct cures for disease by using the relations between certain animals and diseases. There is much speculation over the matter and is a very sensitive issue since TCM has been practiced for so long using various parts of all wildlife for medicinal purposes. Growing population and greater wealth across China have increased demand for the Pangolin and other species for their healing properties, leading to a soaring black market trade. The fact that wildlife species have been used for so long in TCM there is much debate on protecting the rights of the animal vs. the rights of the patient who believe in their medicinal culture that has been practiced for thousands of years.
Regulating trade is a hot topic in regards to protecting Pangolin for medicinal purposes. There is a lot of controversy on shutting down illegal trade and opening up a legal trade that would allow a certain amount of Pangolins to be killed for medical purposes.
“China is a member of CITES, but the country permits some pangolin consumption to respect medicinal traditions….only in designated hospitals, not through retail sales.” (3).
Some believe that opening a legal market would allow wildlife officials to create rivalry between traders enabling officials to better understand the trade while others claim it would only worsen the situation and that the attention should be on stopping illegal trade. I agree that managing the trade would be difficult and that the focus should be stopping all illegal trade since there are other alternative herbal remedies that are proven to provide relief to the same ailments.
Modern Alternative Medicines May Save People and Wildlife!
There is hope for all! Regulating trade, opening and closing markets may not give us the immediate answer we are looking for in regards to protecting the wildlife populations. Instead finding new revolutionary ways to treat the same illnesses using natural plant based herbs may in fact provide a win-win for all. Alternative medicine will help keep Pangolins and their wildlife counterparts’ heads off the proverbial chopping block (the literal one too) and give those seeking natural medicines through TCM options on herbal remedies. Many herbal remedies have been discovered to help treat common ailments that could greatly diminish the need for animal parts. Not to mention the grotesque process that it takes to obtain these healing properties from the animals. For example Pangolins are either boiled until their scales fall off or kept alive while their scales are gradually pulled off and then the scales are ground up like Rhino horn and used in traditional medicines. There are at least 35 other herbs that would help with blood stasis, menstruation, lactation, swelling, rheumatoid arthritis, and relieve sores that could be used by expert practitioners. The seeds of Vaccaria have been found to be an excellent substitute for Pangolin scales. A 2008 report by TRAFFIC researched the effectiveness of Pangolin scales vs. Vaccaria(dried cowherb seed pictured below) and proved that the latter was a great substitute that was equal to or better than the scales of the Pangolin. (5).
There are a variety of herbal remedies that help combat rheumatoid arthritis, milk supply, and blood stasis. The Mayo clinic suggests plant oils such as evening primrose, borage, black current, fish oil and tai chi could be very beneficial to those seeking a holistic approach to rheumatoid arthritis. (6). There are also several herbal remedies that help with blood stasis. Alfalfa, spirulina, raspberry leaf, fennel, fenugreek, and blessed thistle just to name a few are highly regarded in helping with a mother’s milk supply. Torbangun a traditional Indonesian remedy has been proven to increase milk production by 65% and Fenugreek has also been shown to increase lactation by 20%. (7).
Thanks to doctors and scientist who believe in providing quality holistic healthcare by using the foundation of TCM while at the same limiting the unnecessary and extremely cruel use of Pangolins and other species the population of these animals could one day rise again. By regulating trade, closing black market loop holes and educating people on alternative medicines we may be able to save not just one species but all of them. The choice is always ours. To make the right one and not spend money on products that creates a market for trappers and poachers to kill endlessly. What happens when all the wildlife is gone? Is that when we will decide to buy products that don’t harm and kill living creatures to the point of extinction? Or can we stop the violence and ancient rituals and be a part of a global cultural change that embraces past tradition while welcoming new humane ways of thinking?
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer, K.Fay