Medicine That Kills Is Made From This:

I try – and sometimes fail – to be a live-and-let-live kind of person.

Vaquita_01 cropped
Meet the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise.  You’ll hear more about them  soon.

I believe we can treat each other with respect, even when we don’t agree with choices of religion or politics or traditions.

As many people have said, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

But one of the instances when I fail to be that live-and-let-live person is the killing of animals to use their body parts for traditional Chinese medicine.

When there is no scientific evidence that any of these animal body parts has any medicinal value at all.

The catalyst for this thought was a review of a new documentary that opened in July, Sea of Shadows, a film that “fatally intertwines the destinies of two species of fish with very particular gulfqualities.”

The film’s setting is the Gulf of California, and one of the species is the totoaba, “a fish whose swim bladder is so valued in China for its supposed miraculous medicinal powers that its nickname is ‘the cocaine of the seas.’”

The image above (just below the title) is black market totoaba swim bladders.

Totoaba swim bladders can sell for “upward of $100,000 each.”

The totoaba are caught in illegal gill nets, and so is the second species, the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, which lives only in the Gulf of California.  Both species are considered “critically endangered.”

The vaquita population was an estimated 30 when the film begins, and “fewer when it ends.”

vaquita- and totoaba
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries picture showing a vaquita, bottom, captured as bycatch along with a totoaba in Sonora, Mexico.

So the totoaba are killed for their swim bladders, and the vaquita are just peripheral damage, dying because they’re inconvenient.

How many animals, I wondered, are dying because of mythical medical beliefs?

Too damn many.

And some of those are on their way to becoming extinct, just like the vaquita and totoaboa.

I want to be a live-and-let-live respecter of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, as it’s referred to in this article on

Nat Geo (2)

The author describes TCM as:

“A system of health care that dates back to the third century B.C.  It grew out of the writings of ancient healers, who began recording their observations of the body, its functions, and its reactions to various therapies and treatments, including herbal remedies, massage, and acupuncture.

“For more than 2,000 years, generations of healers and scholars added to and refined the knowledge.  The result is a canon of literature dealing with practically every sort of health issue – from the common cold to cancer, pregnancy to old age.”

Compare that to “Western” or “European” medicine, where we’re talking mere centuries, not millennia.

Western medicine, in which the best they can do today for cancer is cutting, burning and/or poisoning.

So, I’m sure there is much to respect in TCM.

But I can’t reconcile that with this:

tigre002 larger
Bones, skin and meat from one tiger, black market:  $70,000.

And this:

One rhino horn, two pounds, black market:  $100,000.

And this:

One elephant tusk, 100 pounds, black market:  $150,000.

Especially when the article goes on to say,

“Though China has long embraced science-based medicine, TCM remains popular throughout the country and is often offered in hospitals and clinics alongside science-based medical treatments.

“TCM has also become popular beyond China’s borders and can now be found in more than 180 countries worldwide, according to some counts, and has an industry value of more than $60 billion a year.”

So the demand for animals threatened by extinction – again, for unproven medicinal use – is growing.  From a different source:

“Today [in China], the bulging upper and middle class are ready to pay more for these traditional remedies.  The use of traditional Chinese remedies containing such animal components has become a status symbol amongst the rich in China.

“As demand increases, poachers in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world are only too willing to kill rare, endangered, and protected animals.”

Another of those animals is the pangolin, featured in this article:

Wash Post (2)

The article describes the pangolin as “looking like a cross between an anteater and an armadillo but unrelated to either,” and it’s easy to see why:


This article goes on to say that the pangolin

“is the world’s most trafficked mammal:  A million of them are thought to have been poached from the wild in just a decade.

“Already almost wiped out in China, the pangolin is fast disappearing from the jungles of the rest of Asia and, increasingly, from Africa to supply China’s booming market in traditional medicine.”

And it’s not just the pangolin, or the big animals – rhinos, tigers, elephants – that are killed for body parts for TCM.  There are many animals in trouble; here are a few of them:

Banteng wild cattle are killed for their horns and skulls, used in TCM. banteng cropped
Chinese alligator meat is promoted as a way to cure the common cold and prevent cancer, and the organs are also said to have medicinal properties. chinese alligator
Chinese softshell turtles; poachers hunt them for their oil to treat night sweats and muscle spasms. chinese soft-shell-turtle
Musk deer; their musk is used for treating ailments of the circulatory and nervous system, and also as a sedative. musk cropped
Saiga horn products are believed to be effective in reducing fevers, detoxification, assuaging epilepsy, and benefit the liver. Saiga_antelope_at_the_Stepnoi_Sanctuary cropped.jpg
Seahorses are dried and used to treat erectile dysfunction. seahorses-restricted-super-tease cropped
Toad-headed geckos are gutted, beheaded, dried and crushed, and used to treat asthma, erectile dysfunction and the common cold. toad-headed gecko_01
Water buffalo horns are considered an alternative to rhino horns in the treatment of conditions ranging from fever to convulsions. water buffalo cropped

And the list of animals is not static; now we can add lions, which are being killed for their bones as an alternative to tigers:

Independent (2)

And if you convince consumers your product is an aphrodisiac, your fortune is made.  As this author on said of the image below:

It is very easy to find products made with lion bone online.  Getting prices and easy ways to buy online did not cost me more than two minutes.  These products promise to lengthen the penis and improve sexual potency.

product cropped

So:  Traditional Chinese Medicine.

What, exactly, is a “tradition”?

Tradition:  The handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.

All people, all countries, all religions have traditions.  And who am I to criticize the Chinese, when it comes to their traditional medicine?

Americans, after all, have many traditions, old and more recent, that I think are wrong.  College hazing comes to mind.  So does crucifying people on social media.

And then there’s lynching, a favored pastime for some from 1882 to 1968.

It’s just that when I see this:lion

Become this:

lion bones.png
(Top) Lion skeletons and skull; (bottom) claws, and cleaned lion bones ready for export to southeast Asia.

For no other reason than mythical medicinal tradition…

I lose my live-and-let live attitude.

seahorses-bigger cropped
In a row of shops in Sheung Wan, on the western side of Hong Kong Island, seahorses are stored in plastic boxes and glass jars, their elongated, S-shaped bodies stacked like spoons.  In traditional Chinese medicine, seahorses are believed to have Viagra-like powers.  CNN, June 6, 2019.

Vaquita headline (2)

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