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Traditional Chinese Medicine Animals: a list of species threatened by TCM

The millennial traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was the cause of the death of more than 90% of the rhinos in the last 40 years.

Among the ingredients used by TCM we can find a series of products derived from protected and endangered animals, a request fueled by a millionaire black market.

Why are these traditional practices involving animal cruelty still tolerated in some areas of China?

It is good to note that the effectiveness of these animal parts is far from being verified, which makes death and the extinction of these animals due to superstition and a whim rather than a real benefit to health.

The Chinese and Hong Kong governments have been trying to fight the clandestine trafficking of animals linked to TCM.

More recently, after the coronavirus outbreak, China banned the trade and consumption of wild animals.

After this premise, let’s see what are the most controversial ingredients in the MTC.

Related: Animals eaten alive in China, Yulin Dog Festival, Traditional Chinese Medicine Animal Black Market


Bile and bear’s legs are very sought after in the TCM. In particular, Asian black bears are raised in Vietnam and China to collect their bile, which is taken daily from the still alive animal. Once extracted it is sold in the TCM.

Black bears are endangered animals. Bears are kept in very small cages and the animal is prevented from getting up.

Bears in captivity, remain up to 10, 12 years in these conditions, which lead the animal to muscle atrophy and mental disorders. During a survey by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, investigators reported that the conditions of the animals were nothing short of disastrous, with some specimens arriving at autocannibalism or suicide.

In addition, these animals suffer from a long list of diseases: malnutrition, hair loss, dwarfism, loss of muscle mass, infections, etc. Often teeth, legs, and bladder are also extracted.

The bile is extracted twice a day through an implanted tube. Each extraction produces 10 to 20 ml of bile.

The process is, without a doubt, painful as the testimonies of the inspectors spoke of animals suffering during the trial.

According to some estimates, there would be over 4000 bears in these conditions in Vietnam and another 9000 in China.

There are about 250 bear farms in China.

The demand for bile is still very high.

Swallow’s nest

The swallow’s nest (yan wo) is used as a panacea for beauty, as an aphrodisiac, to fight asthma, etc, due to the swallow’s saliva that impregnates the nest.

Swallow-nest soups are extremely expensive.

Once dissolved in the water, the nest takes on a gelatinous appearance.

The nests are mostly collected in some Thai or Indonesian caves.

In recent years, due to the great demand, numerous farms have been implanted in cities near the sea. The nests are rich in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium, all very common and available with alternative diets.

Its consumption is one of the main causes of deforestation in Indonesia.

Moreover, due to the expanding market and the exasperated demand, the swallow nests business has become a bargain for local eco-mafias. In fact, half a dozen companies that have obtained concessions for the extraction of nests in Thailand protect the 140 caves populated by the swifts with armed guards who have the order to shoot at sight.

Corruption is rampant: the police pretend not to see and the tour operators avoid these natural havens like the plague. The fishermen and the inhabitants of the areas have been hunted; who speaks or dies or is threatened.


According to MTC, tiger penis has strong therapeutic properties.

According to western medicine, this statement is false. It is generally prepared as a dish to be eaten by patients eager to absorb the power of the feline.

This ingredient, as well as in China, is consumed in some countries of South East Asia such as Cambodia and Laos.

It is obviously forbidden in the West. It has been used in potions, balsams, liqueurs, etc. The paws were used to combat insomnia. Teeth for fever. Fat to treat rheumatism and leprosy. The nose as a treatment for superficial wounds. Bones as an anti inflammatory. The bile for convulsions in children with meningitis. The brain for laziness. Feces for hemorrhoids and alcoholism.


As for the tiger penis, in the TCM it is believed that even the penis of the deer possesses therapeutic properties.

It is commonly sold dried or powdered in Chinese pharmacies. it is also common in Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore. It is cut into slices and then roasted and dried in the sun.

According to some, the deer’s penis is aphrodisiac. There is also a deer-based wine called Lurongjiu.

In Angang in Taiwan, pregnant women consume it to reinvigorate their body and that of the child.


Why are rhinos poached for their horns?

Unlike other animal horns, rhino’s horn is made exclusively of keratin and does not develop on a supporting bone. According to the MTC it is used for the treatment of fever and convulsions.

There is no evidence of its effectiveness in official Medicine. Since 1993, its distribution is illegal in China, but its sale has spread to the black market.

Some exponents of Traditional Chinese Medicine have requested a ban and from 2011 in England, the Register of Medical Herbs in the MTC has condemned its use.

According to other exponents, however, its use is essential because there are no equally effective alternatives.


The turtle shell is widely used in MTC. Every year hundreds of tons are imported into Taiwan. A widely used medicine based on plating is the guilinggao.

Once the almost extinct Cuora trifasciata were used. Today its use is limited by the excessive cost of production even if there are farms in China.

However, alternative versions are produced that use common turtles. The heads of the turtles are used to relieve themselves from work.

Furthermore, the intake of the turtle is believed to serve to lengthen life expectancy.


The population of seahorses has been threatened in recent years by excessive fishing and the destruction of natural habitats.

Every year at least 20 million seahorses are captured to respond to MTC’s request. They are also used in traditional Filipino and Indonesian medicines.

Since 2004, their import and export are controlled by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

They are ingested by taking pills. In some shops, it is also possible to find pre-packaged dried seahorses.


Sharks are often killed just to prepare shark fin soup, an expensive specialty of traditional Chinese cuisine, whose preparation requires the removal of the fin with a red-hot blade.

The fishermen proceed on the animal when it is still alive, then throw it into the sea without the fins, forcing it to die for asphyxiation or as prey.

The practice is denounced by animal rights activists and environmentalists as brutal. Fins have a high commercial value, can cost 815 euros per kg.

You can find two types of soups, a prized (100 USD for a bowl) and a simpler version available on the market at about 10 USD.

In TCM it is believed that shark fins can help fight cancer and fortify virility.

The presumed carcinogenic properties of shark fins, in 1997 and 2007, in two different studies, has been proven unfounded.


Snakes are one of the favorite ingredients of MTC: they can be sold dried, in the form of powder, pre-packaged, in wine, in the form of particles, etc.

Their intake would be effective for treating bronchitis. Snake oil is used as an ointment.


Elephant skin is believed to cure acne. Fangs are also used.

As for the rhinos, the elephant population is at risk due to the activities of the poachers who then smuggle the horns on the black market of the MTC.

On February 20, 2019, a court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, has sentenced to 15 years Yang Fenglan, a Chinese businesswoman nicknamed the “ivory queen”, for having smuggled hundreds of elephant tusks into China … more

Customs in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have confiscated more
than 360 kilograms of ivory smuggled from Africa and detained three suspects


Pangolin meat in China is considered a delicacy and it is consumed because it’s believed to have nutritional value to aid kidney function. TCM continues to promote the use of pangolin scales as a legal ingredient in formulations.

They are used to help lactating women secrete milk, unblock blood clots, promote blood circulation, cure infertility, treating gynecological diseases.


The monkey heads are used to treat headaches.


The skulls of gazelles are pulverized to reinvigorate the patients.

Cattle and horses

According to MTC, bull’s penis has therapeutic properties. The kidney stones of cattle or horses are also extremely expensive and are used to treat inflammation or fever.


Lizards are consumed to fight high blood pressure. Dried flying lizards are also sold.


Maize mouse pup wine is used as an anti-oxidant.


Many pulverized insects are used in TCM to treat asthma, heart attacks, and typhus. Among the most used insects, there is the dust of weaving ants, beetles, bees, cicadas, caterpillars and black scorpions.

The cicadas are ingested to improve the sight, the bee venom is a traditional remedy as well.

Animal and human bones

In the TCM in the past, animal and human bones were widely used to fight malaria and other diseases. They were known as dragon bones.

Human placenta

In addition to the human placenta, the Bencao Gangmu, a classic and fundamental text of MTC, lists the use of human bones, nails, hair, ear wax, tooth impurities, feces, urine, sweat, sperm and human organs.

Fortunately, apart from the human placenta, many of these ingredients are no longer used.

To this list must also be added elk horns, frogs, donkeys (for their umbilical cordons) and numerous other animals.


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topic: Traditional Chinese Medicine animal cruelty

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View Comments

  • Thank you for putting together this article.

    You would have thought that, having gone through a purging of religion under Mao, China would have shaken free of these cruel, irrational practices. And you would have also thought that, even if religiosity persisted, the history of Buddhism - which teaches to cherish all animals - would predispose the Chinese to treating their fellow creatures with respect.

    Apparently not. And what's worse is, as part of his nationalistic sentimentality, Xi Ping is encouraging the spread of these harmful hoax medicines.

    There are more Chinese than any other nationality in the world, so the cultural traditions of China are of great importance to all of us if they lead to the decimation of wildlife - especially wildlife outside of their borders. They must be taught to appreciate the natural world for more than just what can be raped from it.

  • This practice is against all that is human , these old traditions have no place in the modern world , These people and their Treatment of animals is what have brought the world to its knees and the death of thousands of people !

  • Horrifying! Beyond cruel! Grow a heart and some empathy! The civilized world does not accept these barbaric and prehistoric practices!

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