Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pangolins and Chinese "medicine"

センザンコウ と 漢方薬

Kampo 漢方薬
Traditional Chinese medicines have been incorporated into Japanese culture and persist in a form known as "kampo." Kampo has been scrutinized for less than scientific approaches and lack of scientific evidence for the efficacy of drugs. Many of the drugs are derived from animal products. 
Some of these products have created an economic environment in which hunting pressure has affected endangered species as poaches continue to harvest animal parts despite global restrictions. The most famous example of this is the poaching of rhinos because rhino horn is regarded as an impotency treatment, creating a black market which offers huge payouts for the illegal rhino horn despite the animals being severely endangered and the development of alternative pharmaceuticals.

Pangolins センゼンコウ
An strange product seen in some kampo stores are the pangolin. The pangolin is a creature from east Asia, mostly China, which is similar to the armadillo (which is found in America). Pangolins are primitive mammal (lacking teeth or ears) and the feed on ants and termites with their long tongues, like ant-eaters. A distinguishing feature of the pangolin is that their hides are covered in thick scales making it look more similar to a fish, dragon or medieval knight while armadillos look like a leathery basketball. It is these scales which are valued for their medicinal value.

Image source:
Image source:

Pangolin Scale Medicine
The vast majority of demand for pangolins (called "chuan shan jia" in Chinese) comes from the use of pangolin scales as medicine. The scales are dried an used traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments: crying children, hysterical women and deafness. In kampo, the scales are thought to help prevent blood clots and reduce inflammation.
You can sometimes see entire stuffed pangolins in kampo stores (such as the store in the Momodani shopping arcade in Osaka).
The pangolin scales are becoming more unusual as pangolin hunting is outlawed in countries to which the pangolin are native (though illegal trafficking of pangolins is common), herbal substitutes are gaining favor in kampo shops and modern pharmaceuticals are prescribed effectively by doctors.