TCM Part 4–Musk Deer and Seahorse

Musk deer (Moschus)

Musk from the musk deer is the basis of some 300 TCM prescriptions, of various remedies in Western homeopathic medicine, and of some perfumes. It is used to promote circulation and to treat skin infections and abdominal pain. TRAFFIC reports that China’s demand for musk is estimated at 500–1,000 kilograms per year, which requires the musk glands of at least 100,000 deer. China can no longer meet this demand with its own wild musk deer population. (Worldwide there are only about 700,000 musk deer left in the wild). Farming, which China claims to have success with, and medicinal alternatives may help save the musk deer. The three main alternatives under consideration in China, according to presenters at the international symposium in Hong Kong referred to above, are the muskrat, two species of civet, and synthetic materials. The implications of harvesting large numbers of these animals for medicinal purposes, however, have not been fully explored.

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Seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi)

The seahorse, used as a treatment for kidney ailments, circulatory problems, and impotence, has been a feature of TCM for centuries. In fact, it was mentioned in the famous work Bencao gangmu (1578; “Great Pharmacopoeia”), a description of nearly 2,000 drugs. Today approximately 90 health and medicine products containing seahorses are sold in China and elsewhere.

Thirty-two countries and regions are involved in harvesting some 20,000,000 seahorses each year; yet production already is failing to meet a worldwide demand that had reached 500 tons annually by the beginning of the 21st century. China’s demand alone was 200–250 tons per year, 95 percent of which had to be imported. The rising demand, according to the World Nature Foundation, had resulted, already in 1996, in the reduction of populations of the known 35 varieties of seahorses by more than half. Currently the seahorse is not listed as endangered and there are no international regulations on trade, a tragedy in the making.

Efforts to promote seahorse farming, tried and abandoned in the past, are underway again. China’s Hainan province, whose coastal areas near Yaxian (called Sanya locally) provide ideal living conditions for the seahorse, is making significant investments in seahorse farming. Meanwhile the harvesting of wild seahorses goes on.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Part 3

The Black Bear

Black bears in cages in a Chinese bear farm–World Society for the Protection of Animals. – See more at:

Bear bile is used in TCM to treat a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, including liver ailments and headaches. Although substitutes for bear bile exist, there is still a huge demand for the real thing. Because of the significant reduction in the population of wild Asiatic black bears that has resulted, bear farming was introduced in China in 1984. On these farms bears are confined to small cages where their bile is extracted through catheters, a painful and sometimes deadly ordeal. According to CNN, more than 7,000 bears are kept on 200 farms in China. Adam M. Roberts, in his Advocacy for Animals article “Bears on the Brink,” reports that bear farming has had no effect on the poaching of wild bears. He calls on the United States, specifically, to pass national legislation to protect bears in this country and to inhibit international trading in bear parts.

I am asking everyone who uses these medicines and beauty products to please discontinue their use. Please help protect our wildlife. Find alternative natural products whose ingredients are derived from plants. Pinterest and many other sites have information on how to make your own products. It may be a little more costly (?), but it will be healthier and you will be doing something good.

Today’s Rant: How We Support Animal Poaching

This is part 1 of a series of articles on this topic. Animal poaching greatly upsets me. Whether it’s a rat, an opossum, a rhinocerous, or a beautiful tiger, it upsets me. We need to value all life, and to support poaching by purchasing products made with, or containing, animal parts, is just plain wrong. We are so focused on ourselves and what we perceive as best for us (I’m talking globally), that we will believe whatever claims are made regarding cures of this, that, or the other, without regard for how the product is made or what it contains. I must admit, to some extent I have been guilty. I am a huge fan of homeopathic medicine. However, before I purchase anything else, I will know what is in it, and where the product comes from.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 80 percent of the world’s population depends for its primary health care needs on medicines derived from plants and animals.

Seized pelts and bones from poached tigers on display, Nepal—D. Champaign—Wildlife Conservation Nepal, HO/AP. –

This is especially true in countries where traditional medicines are widely used. Increasingly, however, modern medicines and remedies also contain animal and plant derivatives. Given growing populations, increasing wealth, and the spreading popularity of natural remedies around the world, the demand for these medicines and remedies is rising. The rising demand, combined with reduced habitat, has caused an alarming increase in the number of plant and animal species (used for medicinal purposes) at risk. This article highlights some of the threatened and endangered animal species used in traditional Chinese medicine, the most widely practiced traditional system.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

TCM is a health care system in which patients are treated with natural plant, animal, and mineral remedies. It assumes, for a person to be healthy, that vital energy or force (qi) must be able to move smoothly through the body and that yin and yang forces (cold and hot; passive and active; and absorbing and penetrating) are in balance. Imbalance causes illness or injury. TCM is all about restoring smooth movement of vital energy and the balance between yin and yang forces in its patients.

TCM’s origins are lost in the mists of time. Shennong, born in the 28th century BCE, according to legend, is credited with compiling a catalogue of 365 species of medicinal plants that became the basis of later herbological studies. Most medical literature, however, is founded on the Neijing (3rd century BCE; “Esoteric classic”), which is still regarded as a great authority. During its centuries of development, TCM spread throughout China and then into Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. It has been a major part of traditional Chinese culture and continues to play an important role in medical treatment in China today.

TCM uses approximately 1,000 plant and 36 animal species, including the tiger, rhinoceros, black bear, musk deer, and sea horse; the tiger, rhinoceros, and sea horse are endangered.

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