Wildlife conservation becomes a matter of attitude in South Korea

Posted on 22 July 2003

The use of pangolin scales and musk is on the increase among traditional medicine practitioners in South Korea, according to a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
Hong Kong - The use of pangolin scales and musk is on the increase among traditional medicine practitioners in South Korea, according to a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. However there are also encouraging signs that indicate a decline in use of tiger, rhinoceros, and bear. The report comes on the heels of the 10th anniversary of South Korea’s ratification of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “TRAFFIC is pleased about the reassuring results of the survey. South Korea has achieved plenty in terms of wildlife conservation in the last decade. For example, the TRAFFIC survey shows that awareness among traditional Korean medicine practitioners of the current wildlife trade regulations is high,” said Craig Kirkpatrick, the director of TRAFFIC East Asia. “However, the challenges are also plentiful and measures are urgently needed to reduce trade in endangered species for medicinal purposes which despite restrictions and bans continue to be in demand — and in some cases are perhaps even on the increase.” TRAFFIC East Asia documented the attitudes of traditional Korean medicine practitioners towards use and conservation of wildlife species of medicinal value based on a postal survey conducted in 2001. All trade in the five species covered by the survey is either banned (tiger and rhinoceros) or highly restricted (musk deer, bear, and pangolin) under South Korea’s laws and CITES. The survey found that a significant proportion of the more established practitioners acknowledge the need to regulate the trade and are well aware of wildlife regulations. A marked gap in knowledge regarding wildlife regulations exists only among the practitioners with less than five years work experience. “This result indicates a strong need to incorporate conservation issues into the current teaching curriculum of traditional Korean practitioners,” Kirkpatrick said. Almost a third of the respondents also stated their intention to continue to use banned or restricted medicinal ingredients, mainly because of the perceived lack of effective substitutes or their conviction about the medical efficacy of the ingredient. To address these contradicting results, the health and conservation authorities should work together to test the efficacy of substitutes, and promote the use of alternatives to banned and restricted medicinal ingredients. “It is vital to learn what traditional Korean medicine practitioners think are the feasible solutions so that we can ensure both the future development of traditional Korean medicine and the conservation of medicinal species,” said Sue Kang, co-author of the report. “The will to change practices and find sustainable solutions clearly exists — and we need to ensure that means to achieve such change are available.” The report calls for market research to be carried out on the use of species with increasing demand and species with apparently more stable demand. This is essential to understanding the dynamics of the illegal trade in endangered species used as medicine. Also, review of South Korea’s existing system for implementation of CITES and its domestic controls is needed. Prompt action is of great importance as South Korea’s population is increasingly elderly with chronic conditions that traditional Korean medicine treatments are well suited to. As a result, the demand for tradional Korean medicine is likely to increase in future. The success of actions taken will depend on the involvement of all those with a vested interest in traditional Korean medicine, from users to practitioners to traders to regulators alike. TRAFFIC hopes that the report released today, the result of a collaborative effort between TRAFFIC and the traditional Korean medicine community, will serve as an incentive to step up efforts to achieve long-term solutions for the future development of traditional Korean medicine as well as for the survival of endangered species. For more information: Craig Kirkpatrick Director TRAFFIC East Asia, Hong Kong Tel: +852 2 530 0587 E-mail: tea@pccw.imsbiz.com Maija Sirola Communications Coordinator TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK Tel. +44 (0)1223 277 427 E-mail: maija.sirola@trafficint.org Notes to editors: Five species examined in the report were chosen on the basis of their conservation status, the threat posed to wild populations by trade and their importance as medicinal ingredients. The following uses have been identified in traditional Korean medicine: •Tiger: Tiger bone is used mainly to treat rheumatism and to strengthen bones. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory and pain-killing effects. •Rhinoceros: Rhinoceros horn is used to treat diseases accompanied by extreme heat and very high fevers. It is believed to remove heat inside the body, relieve ‘fire’ toxicity, and cool the blood. •Musk: Musk is used to treat a wide variety of problems that impair consciousness. Because of its intensely aromatic, penetrating nature this substance is believed to revive the spirit •Pangolin: According to the Korean Pharmacopoeia, pangolin scales are believed to help with a variety of female ailments including conditions related to menstruation and breast milk circulation. •Bear: Bear gallbladder is used to treat diseases accompanied by high fever and convulsions. It is also used to treat delirium associated with extensive burns. It is believed that bear gallbladder can clear heat and alleviate spasms, as well as strengthen the liver function and remove toxins from the liver.
Long-tailed pangolin (Manis tetradactyla).
© WWF / Meg Gawler