22 Jun

Viagra and Wildlife Conservation

In a rare case of technology to the rescue, it has been proposed that erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra may have the unintended beneficial side effect of reducing the lethal pressure on declining populations of endangered species around the world. The decimation of some species, such as tigers and rhinos, has been linked to the continuing popularity of centuries-old sexual and other medicinal folk remedies.

Traditional medicine has often relied on a bizarre mix of animal parts to cure ailments ranging from gout to erectile dysfunction. Preparations containing tiger bone, tiger penis, crushed sea horse and rhino horn are all processed throughout the world as aphrodisiacs. This folk-medicine industry is known to supply much of the incentive for poachers who are slaughtering animals in places as widely separated as Africa, North America and Asia. But if men switch from traditional remedies to drugs such as Viagra that may be changing, and a wide range of animal species that have traditionally been sought for their virility enhancing properties may be offered a new lease of life.

In Chinese Traditional Medicine, animal parts – known in East Asia as pu foods – are reputed to endow a man with the potency of the animal itself, or with the potency implied by the shape of the appendage, explaining why you never see ‘Hair of gerbal’ claiming to have virile qualities. Most of the medicines are manufactured in China and are sold in markets worldwide.

While the illegal trade in raw products of endangered species is an undisputed problem, some experts are not holding much hope for a Viagra revolution, noting that the animals’ parts are marketed for much more than aphrodisiacs. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only a “fringe culture” in Asia seeks tiger genitals and rhino horn as aphrodisiacs. Other animal body parts have a variety of uses in legitimate Chinese medicine, particularly tiger bone. They are used as cures for everything from arthritis to pimples.

Others argue that Viagra may be too expensive for Asian and African markets. However, it is important to remember that traditional remedies are expensive as well. For the small segment of the Asian population that can afford such expensive traditional remedies, Viagra should be comparably cheap. Despite its high price, the demand by Asians for Viagra is considerable, if media reports are to be believed. Impotence has been estimated to affect half the men in Asia aged between 40 and 70. Reportedly, the tablets fetch $300 a piece in China’s black market. Viagra pills smuggled into South Korea cost around $25 a tablet.

The fact is that prior to the commercial availability of Viagra in 1998, no product in any medical tradition had been proven to be an effective and non-intrusive treatment of erectile dysfunction. In this way it has mass appeal across all traditions. Whether this will eventually have a positive impact on endangered animals is as yet interesting speculation.

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