Illegal pangolin widely used in hospitals and pharmacies in China

The pangolin that inhabits Africa and Asia is among the most endangered species on the planet, and much of its decline in numbers is linked to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). A new study details the wide availability of these pangolin products in hospitals and pharmaceutical stores in two Chinese provinces.

The Doctor. Yifu Wang, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues from the United Kingdom began interviewing suppliers from Henan, a densely populated mainland province in the east of the country, as well as suppliers from the small tourist island of Hainan Province. In all, they spoke with doctors at 41 hospitals and 134 other pharmacy owners or employees.

Their results, published this month in the journal Nature Conservation, showed that pangolin drugs were available in two-thirds of hospitals and 34% of pharmacies in their study. However, demand is outstripping supply from legal merchants, according to the report. This is despite measures taken by the Chinese government that some environmental and wildlife groups describe as half measures that do not solve the problem.

In fact, 46% of surveyed hospitals and 34% of pharmacies were selling illegally.

Use of the pangolin in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia

Although pangolin scales have recently been removed from the PRC Pharmacopoeia, some patented medicines or ‘zhongchengyao’ in the Pharmacopoeia still contain pangolin scales as an ingredient”Wang and his colleagues explain.

Hospitals and clinics providing TCM-based care treated 962 million patients in 2016, one of the two years of the study, and represented 15.8% of all medical services provided in China. Wildlife conservationists are increasingly concerned about traditional practices due to the pressures placed on the pangolin and other endangered species.

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pangolin, scales, endangered animals, chinese medicine, wildlife

Endangered and illegal trade

All eight pangolin species are listed as endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), with international trade effectively prohibited.

Existing legal trade allows 711 hospitals to sell pangolin products as medicines with regulations on manufacturer, packaging and national annual sale quantityWang explains.However, we have shown that pangolin scales are in high demand and unauthorized sellers are commonly found selling pangolin products illegally.“.

China remains the center of the pangolin problem, but the “The current trade in pangolin products is truly international, with over 70 countries across four continents identified as being involved in the trade in various ways.“said the authors of the article.

The two current problems facing pangolin conservation that we highlighted in China, widespread illegal trade and very limited legal supply capacity compared to market demandthe authors said,need urgent mitigation rather than relying on solutions that are not feasible in the near future

The researchers noted that their findings on traditional Chinese medicine could also extend to other challenges Beijing faces with the wildlife trade, such as the demand for bear bile or saiga horn from antelope species. And it will be important to integrate the TCM industry in efforts to protect species and combat the illegal wildlife trade.

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