Environment: Tiger products still being used as remedies in traditional Chinese medicines

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The Independent Online
Despite several years of publicity and campaigning against the trade in endangered wildlife, drugs and potions containing tiger parts - or claiming to do so - are still widely used in Oriental medicine around the world, an undercover inquiry has found.

Staff from the Environmental Investigation Agency, based in London, visited pharmacies offering traditional Chinese medicines in the Netherlands, Britain, the United States and Japan, accompanied by hidden cameras. They found them openly on sale in Tokyo, Yokohama, Amsterdam and New York but not in any British city, suggesting that efforts by UK police forces to crack down on the trade are having an effect.

There are thought to be only about 5,000 tigers left in the wild, most of them in India, compared to roughly 100,000 at the beginning of the century. It is estimated that one or more tigers are poached in India every day, with the demand for medicinal products being the key behind the illegal killing.

In Amsterdam, investigators found tiger bone products on sale in five out of six Chinese pharmacies, in pill, liquid and plaster form. Pharmacists identified mainland China as the source of the medicines.

In Tokyo and Yokohama, two-thirds of pharmacies in a telephone survey carried tiger products, up from 48 per cent in a similar survey two years ago. The figure was even higher in New York, where in February an investigation revealed 80 per cent of pharmacies sold tiger products. However, none of the shops surveyed in the UK - in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh - sold tiger products, and in several cases pharmacists properly advised undercover investigators that trade in such products was illegal.

In traditional Chinese medicine, ground up tiger bones and other organs are believed to provide remedies for ailments such as rheumatism and arthritis, digestive illnesses and impotency. They are incorporated in tonics, pills and pastes. There is also a trade in skins, teeth, claws and skulls used as ornaments.

Meanwhile, after last year's fall in the price of seal penises, the market is now rising. At a recent fisheries exposition in Peking, a Norwegian company sold its entire 1997 stock of 6,000 at prices of $40 for the long ones (45cm) and $15-$20 for the short ones (20cm), the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende reported yesterday.