Two reports from TRAFFIC, the world's largest wildlife trade monitoring network, on traditional medicine systems in Cambodia and Vietnam suggest that illegal wildlife trade, including entire tiger skeletons, and unsustainable harvesting is depleting the region's rich and varied biodiversity and putting the primary healthcare resource of millions at risk.
The results of field studies carried out between 2005 and 2007 found a significant number of Cambodians and Vietnamese rely on traditional medicine. Relaxation of international trade barriers, the impact of free market economies and complex national government policies have led to an increase in the demand and supply for flora and fauna used in traditional medicine. The growing illegal wildlife trade in the region is fuelled by the difficulty of sourcing prescribed ingredients, including parts, from globally threatened species.
"The supply of many wild animals and plants for medicine in Cambodia and Vietnam is becoming scarce due to overexploitation," said Crawford Allan, TRAFFIC's director in North America. "Some of the trade is illegal and threatening endangered species. In Vietnam, we estimate between 5-10 tiger skeletons are sold annually to be used in traditional medicine. With each skeleton fetching approximately $20,000, there is a strong incentive to poach and trade tigers that we must address from the grassroots up."
"An overview of the use and trade of plants and animals in traditional medicine systems in Cambodia" examined the use of wildlife products in Traditional Khmer Medicine and its possible impacts. Over 800 types of plants—approximately 35 percent of the country's native species—are used in Traditional Khmer Medicine. Eight of those plants species are considered high priority for national conservation.
"An overview of the use of plants and animals in traditional medicine systems in Vietnam", presents the findings of traditional medicine market surveys conducted in north and south Vietnam where more than 3,900 species of flora and 400 species of fauna are used in traditional remedies. Seventy-one of the animals traded and used for medicinal purposes in Vietnam are listed on the IUCN Red List of globally threatened species.
"Traditional medicine systems in Cambodia and Vietnam are important components of both national healthcare systems, and are often the only means of healthcare for rural communities," said Dekila Chungyalpa, manager of the Mekong Ecoregion Program at WWF-US. "Understanding which animal and plant species and products are used and traded, and their underlying trade mechanisms, can provide a useful tool to assess the sustainability of such trade, and provide an 'early warning' for species that are threatened."
TRAFFIC, a joint program of WWF and IUCN, recommends further research, increased public awareness, action to increase information sharing among the numerous agencies, and the involvement of institutions and organizations in the harvest, trade and use of traditional medicine.
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