Field of Science

Kill the tigers

Here's a choice: save the last remaining tigers on the planet, or kill them, chop them into pieces, and eat them in the mistaken belief that tiger parts can be used as medicine.

Sounds like an easy choice, no? Unfortunately, humans have already decided to kill the tigers rather than saving them. Fewer than 4,000 wild tigers survive on the planet. As journalist Caroline Alexander wrote in a compelling article in the December issue of National Geographic, "tigers in the wild face the black abyss of annihilation." And their greatest threat, she writes, is "the brutal Chinese black market for tiger parts."

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners claim that tiger parts can be used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including malaria, bacterial infections, bad skin, ulcers, leprosy, and impotence. There is not a whit of scientific evidence to support any of these claims; they are nothing more than folk medicine, based on primitive beliefs dating from a pre-scientific era, when it was believed you could acquire the properties of an animal by eating it. Unfortunately, these beliefs have driven the mightiest of the big cats to the brink of extinction.

The World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies asked its members to stop using tiger bones last year, but their action is far too little, too late. The New York Times reported around the same time that tiger-based "medicines" are widely available in China.

Proponents of Traditional Chinese Medicine claim that it is beneficial, but they have no science to back them up. NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), an apologist for all sorts of quack medical practices, explains that
"In the TCM view, a vital energy or life force called qi circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi."
This is little more than fantasy. Too bad NCCAM's leaders seem to have forgotten whatever they knew about human physiology. They might just as well explain that midi-chlorians circulating in the blood are the source of the Force. (Actually, there are midichlorians in nature now, in a species of tick.  Really.)

Some forms of "alternative medicine" are ineffective but mostly harmless (think homeopathy, which is just water and sugar pills), while others can be harmful to the patients who use them (think acupuncture, with its risk of infection, or ayurveda, which uses toxic chemicals). TCM is doubly harmful: it doesn't benefit patients, and it is the single greatest threat to the world's tigers. I hope people come to their senses before the last tiger is gone.

5 comments:

  1. Maybe laboratory biology, in conjunction with homeopathy and capitalism, can save the tigers. Some enterprising biotech company can isolate relevant cell types from captive tigers, dilute them to an extent to satisfy the demand for pseudo-medicinal tiger parts, and sell them at a price undercutting the black market rates.
    It works perfectly, in theory.

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  2. I totally agree with you, but a problem with everyone writing these kinds of blogs is that most of you would condone freedom of religion and yet you hope or expect that all of these billions of believers will turn around and see reason or be able to separate belonging to a religious group with all the other magical thinking. It is all the same thing and as long as we defend this type of “freedom” I don’t see it getting a lot better--sadly. No one is suggesting persecution, but it is time to stand up and say that ALL religion is magical thinking and people who indulge in it are....well, frankly--backward.

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  3. By the way, you do know what the Chinese (and others) are doing to bears, don’t you?

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/asian-bear-bile-remedies-barbarism-or-medicine/

    ReplyDelete
  4. Why do you not have Facebook on this site under Posts or Comments. I would like to subscribe, but FB is the only social contact centre I belong to, other that Skeptic sites and some Atheist sites. My email is lorne63@hotmail.com, or look me up on Facebook. Thanks, Lorne Lucas

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  5. It is awesome that Nature took the money to print a whole section about TCM and acupuncture and other such lies in their latest issue. As a subscriber, I've already complained, but they're now contributing to killing tigers, too. Time to stop publishing in Nature? Oh wait, that would kill any scientist's career.

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