Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fearful symmetry

A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated – as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support – India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna
— Colonel Jim Corbett, 1944

The Guardian reports on the parlous state of tigers in the wild:

There are now just 3,200 tigers left in the wild. Three of the nine subspecies (the Bali, Javan and Caspian tigers) are extinct; a fourth, the South China, is also lost to the wild, with a few dozen specimens surviving in captivity.

Altie organisations argue that tigers are no longer used for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Andrew Lam has a bizarre argument that TCM never endorsed using tiger parts for enhancing virility. In fact:

Many doctors and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine are angered by the suggestion by some environmentalists that tiger parts are prescribed as aphrodisiacs in TCM. Tiger parts, and tiger derived medicines -- especially tiger bone, tiger bone plaster, and tiger bone pills -- have indeed been constituents of the official pharmacopoeia of TCM, even appearing in textbooks used at Universities in Beijing as late as the early nineties and unfortunately, continue to be used to this day. However, tiger bone derivatives are principally used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other bone and joint related illnesses, and have never been used as aphrodisiacs within TCM.

So killing tigers because of a magical belief that their bones cure arthritis is different from killing tigers because of a magical belief that their bones cure impotence is relevant exactly how? The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, believes that tiger parts are no longer used in TCM, at least in China.

Tiger trade bans have helped wild tigers, and alternatives to tiger bone are effective and plentiful. Why waste 14 years of progress by TCM, China and the world in reducing the market for tiger products?

The 'alternative' proposed is the dead parts of mole rats which, in an apparently powerful conjunction of TCM and homeopathy (since less mole rate is more powerful than more tiger), are even better than tiger bits.

In May 2007, the prestigious, state-owned laboratories at Tanggula Pharmaceutical Company, which is supported by China’s Northwest Institute of Biology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, published results of 10 years of research showing that sailong (mole rat) bone “can completely substitute tiger bone for the effective treatment of rheumatism. Although sailong bone is smaller than tiger bone… its strength is obviously higher than tiger.”

China Daily reported in 2007

More than 20 years ago, Professor Zhang Baochen from the institute began to research the Sailong. He was amazed to find during his dissection of the rats that no cases of arthritis or other bone diseases had ever been identified in this species although the rats live in areas of low temperatures and high humidity.

Zhang said he realized that this rat's unique ability to fight rheumatism could hold hope for human beings afflicted with this disease.

Perhaps they die before arthritis shows itself? Certainly, dissection of an unspecified number of rats without arthritis doesn't automatically prove that they have some mysterious anti-arthritis powers. Despite more than 20 years of research, EoR was unable to locate any published evidence of these claims.

While mole rat bones may cure rheumatism (or, very probably, may not) the fact is that TCM continues to insist on killing animals in the name of a primitive belief system.

The facts about this remarkable turnaround in the killing of tigers shows the propaganda of TCM proponents for the empty arguments they are:

Tiger experts are agreed on the prime, simple cause of its disappearance: it is being massacred for a lucrative illegal trade in traditional Chinese medicine. Shocking new figures released this week show that parts of between 1,069 and 1,220 tigers were seized between 2000 and April this year – an average of at least 104 animals per year. The vast majority of seizures of parts from illegally killed tigers, including skeletons, claws and skins, were in India, China and Nepal, according to Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network. "With parts of potentially more than 100 wild tigers actually seized each year, one can only speculate what the true numbers of animals are being plundered," says Pauline Verheij of Traffic and WWF.

And the view that the ground up parts of almost extinct animals have magical properties is not confined solely to 'primitive' or 'superstitious' peoples. Westerners are equally prone to trusting in sympathetic magic. Just ask Elle MacPherson. Or all the sharks being killed because of a magical belief that dead sharks cure cancer.

And Australians, of course, are not unfamiliar with the principle of needlessly slaughtering a species to extinction (and, yes, EoR is well aware this is a different sort of tiger hunted to extinction for a different, but equally pointless, reason).

Dead thylacine

In a strange twist of synchronicity and quantum entanglement, Andy posted about rhinos while EoR was working on this post.


  1. "TCM: the fast, yet holistic and gentle, track to extinction; one species at a time."

  2. "The 'alternative' proposed is the dead parts of mole rats which, in an apparently powerful conjunction of TCM and homeopathy (since less mole rate is more powerful than more tiger), are even better than tiger bits."

    That's good to know, hunting tigers is getting a bit dangerous for me, the rheumatism is making it harder to run away.


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