DNA of endangered Snow Leopard and Tiger found in Chinese medicines

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Posted 11 April 2016

A recent article from the Journal of Forensic Science Medicine highlights the role Traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) play in the illegal trade of endangered and threatened wildlife species. Recent testing revealed that 50% of 26 TCM products contained undeclared plant or animal DNA, included DNA of the endangered snow leopard and possibly tiger. Also, 50% of the products contained an undeclared pharmaceutical agent, including warfarin, dexamethasone, and others. The article noted that while some products may be contaminated inadvertently, it is unlikely that an endangered species would be added to a product by accident. While this illegal use certainly has environmental implications, it also poses a direct health risk for humans. In 2009, there was a report of a man who died suddenly after taking the TCM product Chan Su, which contains extracts from a species of toad.

References:

Byard RW. Traditional medicines and species extinction: another side to forensic wildlife investigation. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2016 Jan 22

[Source: Natural Medicines]

Traditional Chinese medicine has been called a “significant driver” in the illicit global wildlife trade, with rhinoceros horn used to cure disorders ranging from cerebral hemorrhage to AIDS selling for as much as US$50,000 per kilogram [9]. Other targeted animals include tigers and mole rats (powdered bones used to treat arthritis/rheumatism), freshwater turtles (shell extracts used to treat cancer), and pangolins (scales used to improve circulation and cure skin disease) [9, 10]. It has been estimated that 13 % of traditional Chinese medicines contain animal derivatives, despite legislation that has been enacted banning medicines containing rhinoceros horn and tiger bones. Legislation in the United Kingdom specifies that herbal medicines must contain only plant materials [11].

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