Endangered but still for sale

Endangered but still for sale
Protection needed: Porcupine bezoar stones in its raw form being sold at medicine shops.
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

PETALING JAYA - The products range from antelope antlers to extract of porcupine to pills containing snake or bear gall bladder.

Much of the wildlife being killed for their parts are on the endangered species list or protected animals but many traditional Chinese medicine shops nationwide are stocking the products.

A check by The Star shows that the sale of such illegal products is rampant although very few shops actually display them.

Most keep them out of sight, until asked for by customers who believe that these medications can cure ailments from cancer to dengue.

All the 11 shops that were checked out in Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, George Town, Kuantan and Kuching sell saiga antlers, sourced from Russia. This antelope is a critically endangered species.

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Most of the shops in the peninsula also sell porcupine bezoar in its raw form of stones or as powder.

And they didn't come cheap - 0.375gm of bezoar costs RM450 (S$161) to RM900 depending on the grade.

To get the bezoar, the animal is slaughtered.

Although not all species of porcupine in Malaysia are protected, the origin of the bezoars sold in these shops is not made known to the buyers, who may or may not even care about that.

Then there are the pills and capsules with snake or bear gall bladder, which are brought in from Hong Kong or the Chinese mainland, and illegal in this country.

Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia secretary-general Steven Kow said it was encouraging the shop owners to find alternatives to the wildlife products.

"There needs to be an awareness programme and more research to see if herbs can be a substitute," he said.

The association has warned its 4,000-plus members not to stock illegal items, adding that they faced severe criminal penalties if they were caught.

Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, reported earlier this year that these medications continue to be popular and the shops selling them are thriving.

One medicine shop owner in Kuala Lumpur claimed that bezoars could remove toxins from the body while the antlers help reduce "heatiness".

In Kuching, the products for sale include dried snake and lizard, as well as deer tendon, used to make medicinal wines.

Most of the shop owners admit that it is illegal to sell the products but said that they had to make a living.

"My customers want them. If I don't sell, others will," said a shop owner in Kuching.

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There is concern among wildlife protectors that the illegal sale of these products will lead to species going extinct, even those that are not on the endangered list.

Take porcupines in Malaysia, for example. Only one species is protected, but that does not make it all right to sell porcupine bezoars.

Traffic South-East Asia senior communications officer Elizabeth John warned that porcupines could end up like the tokay gecko, which was at one time believed to be a cure for AIDS.

She said that there were no statistics to show that Malaysia's porcupine numbers were dwindling, "but it might escalate to become a se­­rious problem".

According to her, there has been a ban on the hunting of saiga since 2001, so unless the shops are selling antlers collected previously or by special circumstances, these would be illegal.

See also: Online market running wild with sale of animals

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