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Demand for traditional Chinese medicine in Africa sparks fears for endangered species

Animals which are killed for using their parts in Chinese medicines (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@ChrisSand20)

Amid the rise in demand for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products in African countries has sparked fear for poaching of endangered species.

Mai Xiaotian, writing in Radio Free Asia (RFA) said that the body parts of endangered species are used to make certain ingredients. According to a report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the rise in exports of Chinese medicine products comes amid Xi Jinping's global 'Belt and Road' drive.

"The aggressive expansion of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in many African countries is posing a direct threat to the future of some endangered species," the group said in a statement.

EIA campaigner Ceres Kam said traditional medicine is integral to many cultures and plays an important role in global healthcare, reported RFA.

"Some pharmaceutical companies continue to source ingredients from threatened animals, aggravating the pressure on the survival of these species," Kam said.

"Our very real concern is that such a huge expansion of TCM in Africa, as is happening under China's Belt and Road Initiative, will have the knock-on effect of drastically increasing demand for treatments containing wildlife and, in turn, cause more species to become threatened or extinct," she said.

"Any utilization of threatened species in TCM could potentially stimulate further demand, incentivize wildlife crime and ultimately lead to over-exploitation," Kam warned.

Hong Kong writer and activist Riki Ueda, who has volunteered in wildlife conservation in South Africa, agreed, reported RFA.

"The demand for traditional Chinese medicine will increase, and the pressure on these animals will definitely increase," she said, citing a recent rise in ivory poaching following the legalization of trade in existing ivory.

"Is the legal trade contributing to the illegal trade? Both seem to be growing in parallel … and the [legal trade] is bound to have a negative impact on the species and the illegal wildlife trade alike."

"Since 2008, 5,940 rhinos have been recorded as hunted and killed in Africa," TCM doctor and former Taiwan health ministry official Huang Lin-huang told RFA. "Scientists believe this number is an underestimate."

Huang said he has never believed in the efficacy of powdered rhino horn, which was banned in China, before being made legal again in 2018, said Mai.

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in South Africa, poachers killed 394 rhinos in the whole of 2020. But the number rose to 249 in the first half of 2021 alone.

In Botswana, at least 100 rhinos have been killed by poachers in the last three years, since President Mokgweetsi Masisi took office in 2018 and disarmed anti-poaching squads, taking away their right to kill poachers on sight, reported Mia.