Viagra helps to save endangered animals

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The Independent Online

The anti-impotence drug Viagra has become an unexpected hero in the fight against the hunting of endangered animals for traditional Chinese medicine.

The anti-impotence drug Viagra has become an unexpected hero in the fight against the hunting of endangered animals for traditional Chinese medicine.

The global success of Viagra since it went on sale in 1998 has led to a decline in the trade of animal parts for their supposedly anti-impotence properties, scientists have found.

Viagra is cheaper than many traditional animal-parts remedies – such as dried seahorses or crushed rhino horn – and it visibly works whereas the natural cures do not.

Research shows that the trade in the velvet covering of reindeer antlers fell by 72 per cent from 1997 to 1998. This was the sharpest annual drop in nearly 30 years.

Meanwhile, sales of the penises of Canadian hooded and harp seals – also valued as impotence treatments – fell by half between 1996 and 1998, according to Frank von Hippel, a biologist at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

"While many Western medicines do much the same thing as Chinese traditional medicines, East Asians are typically suspicious of Western medical products. What's different about Viagra is that its effect is so immediate and visible," Dr von Hippel said.

With his brother, William, a psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Dr von Hippel has detected what he believes is the first significant evidence that Viagra is protecting endangered species.

"Because market forces are driving the overcollection of and subsequent threat to some species, the elimination of these market forces may prove to be the most effective conservation solution," the scientists write in the journal Environmental Conservation.

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