KUALA LUMPUR: Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners in the country have pledged their support to replace the use of endangered wildlife parts with sustainable substitutes.
Yesterday, the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association vowed to replace bear bile – traditionally used to “clear heat” and treat fever, inflammation and haemorrhoids – and end the trade by next year.
“For practitioners, the mandate is to save lives but killing threatened animals to save lives defeats the purpose,” said its president Ting Ka Hua.
He was speaking at the Alternatively Effective conference organised by wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic Southeast Asia and the federation, which saw over 80 practitioners, physicians, lecturers and government officials attending to discuss substitutes for bear bile.
Cattle bile powder and Coptis chinensis – a type of medicinal herb – have been found to be an effective replacement for bear bile.
Immediate past regional director of Traffic Southeast Asia Dr Chris R. Shepherd called the pledge a “huge step forward” in the fight against illegal wildlife trade.
“There will always be some level of poaching and illegal trade.
“But I think this will be a turning point where, by forging partnership with the federation, we work to reduce the products’ availability and demand,” he told reporters later.
Cooperation with the practitioners started in 2012 and while there was no target number for the pledge, he said the goal was to see no more bear bile traded at these shops by next year.
In a 2010 study by Traffic Southeast Asia on the availability of bear products, Malaysia ranked third behind Myanmar and Vietnam among countries in the region.
Dr Shepherd said there also would be more cooperation with the traditional Chinese medicine community to find substitutes for other wildlife parts.
Ting said its members had been reminded to do business within the country’s legal framework.
“Since bear trade is illegal in Malaysia, that’s enough for our members to support putting an end to the use of its products,” he said.
The use of wildlife parts in Chinese medicine dates back at least 2,000 years and while students continued to study their use, Ting said it was now no longer necessary to use these due to available alternatives.
University of Hong Kong School of Chinese Medicine associate director and professor Dr Yibin Feng said cattle bile powder and the coptis herb could substitute bear bile.
Comparative studies found cattle bile powder and coptis to have better anti-cancer and liver protection effects than bear bile.
Feng has 300 publications to his name in the research on substitutes for endangered species used in medicines.