Endangered Species Handbook

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Traditional Medicine Trade: Saiga and Deer

     The horns of Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), a species being slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands in Russia and Central Asia, are thought to cure many illnesses; in 1990, China imported 80 tons (Schaller 1993).  This curious species has become so threatened by this trade that it was listed on CITES Appendix II at the 1994 Conference.  The Saiga once numbered in the millions in the Central Asian steppes, an ecological equivalent of the American Bison or African Wildebeest, but were slaughtered to near extinction during the 19th century.
       A trade study found that in 1994, 44 metric tons of Saiga Horn were exported illegally to China, South Korea, Japan and some European nations.  One metric ton is equivalent to 5,000 horns; horn sold for as much as $30 per kilogram in East Asia (Chan et al. 1995b).  In a random survey in August and September 1994, TRAFFIC International investigators found Saiga horn in 131 shops in Hong Kong, from an estimated 15,000 animals.  Taiwan banned the sale of Saiga horn in 1994 (Chan et al. 1995b).  Populations of this species have declined in Kazakhstan and Kalmykia and have become endangered in Mongolia. Today, the trade in Saiga horn is so uncontrolled and massive that it threatens the species' future survival (Chan et al. 1995b).  The status of the Saiga declined rapidly between 1994 and 1996.  The 1994 edition of the IUCN Red List included only the Mongolian subspecies (Saiga tatarica mongolica), but in the 1996 list, the entire species was listed as Vulnerable; two subspecies, the Mongolian was listed as Endangered, and the Russian (Saiga tatarica tatarica) was listed as Vulnerable.  The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classified the Saiga as Conservation Dependent, with the Mongolian race Endangered, and the Russian also Conservation Dependent.  (For more on the Saiga, see Grasslands, Shrublands and Deserts chapter; and in the Video section, Mammals, “The Saiga of Kazakhstan.”)
     Asian Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), known in North America as Elk, have been heavily exploited for their antlers to use in the TM trade, and many races are endangered.  The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists five subspecies or races of the Red Deer native to China.  The Yarkand Deer (Cervus elaphus yarkandensis) is listed as Endangered, and the other races are in lesser categories.  The U.S. Endangered Species Act lists McNeill's Deer (Cervus elaphus macneillii) of Sinkiang and Tibet, and the Shou (Cervus elaphus affinis) of Tibet and Bhutan as Endangered.  The Chinese Shou is on the brink of extinction, a tiny population having been rediscovered in a park in Lhasa, Tibet in 1988.  The Yarkand Deer is considered probably extinct by Mammals of the World (Nowak 1999).  Another Chinese race, the Kansu (Cervus elaphus kansuensis), is endangered by hunting.  The Tibetan Red Deer (Cervus elaphus wallichi), which possibly exists in Bhutan and Tibet, and the Alashan Wapiti (Cervus elaphus alashanicus), endemic to China, are both possibly threatened.  Shops in cities in Yunnan Province, China, visited in 1997, were selling numerous body parts from Red Deer including the velvet from antlers, a fetus, blood, tails, ligaments, genitalia, hooves and antlers (Li and Wang 1999).  They also found similar items from other Asian deer.
     A threatened species of deer, Eld's Deer or Thiamin (Cervus eldii), which ranges from India to Southeast Asia, is a CITES Appendix I species.  A survey in Cambodia found 14 sets of Eld's antlers being offered for sale in 1994 at $150 to $200 a pair (Martin and Phipps 1996).  The survey in Yunnan Province in 1997 also uncovered body parts from these threatened deer (Li and Wang 1999).  Wild Asian deer are being slaughtered without restriction for commercial sale.  One shop in Lomphat, Cambodia, reported receiving 100 to 300 whole Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) and other deer per month, their antlers selling for $200 to $300 per set (Martin and Phipps 1996).  Cambodian officials reported that Eld's Deer and Sambar are usually hunted with dogs in the wake of forest fires, which are sometimes started deliberately, or with torches at night (Martin and Phipps 1996).
     Endangered wild cattle horns were also seen in Cambodian shops.  Banteng (Bos javanicus), a statuesque species of wild cow verging on extinction throughout its Southeast Asian range, is still being killed for its horns and meat.  A pair of horns on the skull were offered in Poipet market, Cambodia, in February 1994 (Martin and Phipps 1996).  A skull with horns of Gaur (Bos gaurus), largest of the wild cattle and nearly as endangered, was seen for sale in the same market for $40.  Rarest of all wild cattle, the Kouprey (Bos sauveli), has been considered nearly extinct in the forests of Cambodia and possibly Laos and Vietnam (Baillie and Groombridge 1996).  Yet a shop in the Poipet market, Cambodia, offered a Kouprey skull, a female with horns, for $400 in February 1994 (Martin and Phipps 1996).  
     Five species of Musk Deer inhabit high-altitude forests from 2,600 to 3,600 meters.  Ranging from Afghanistan to Siberia, and south to Vietnam and Myanmar, all species have declined as a result of hunting for their musk glands.  The musk is used in Traditional Medicine, and buyers for Asian markets offer huge sums of money for the glands and for the pouch containing this valuable liquid.  Their musk is also valuable in the perfume trade, worth $65,000 per kilo (Fitzgerald 1989).  Male Musk Deer mark their territories with the musk.  Females do not have this gland, but snares set for these deer kill females and fawns along with the males.  These once common and widespread deer have became rare or endangered throughout their ranges, especially in China, the Himalayas and Siberia (Nowak 1999); they suffer the additional pressure of habitat loss as their forests are stripped for firewood.  Although there are musk deer farms in China, very little musk is produced, encouraging the wholesale slaughter of wild deer (Schaller 1993). They are known to be difficult to breed in captivity (Fitzgerald 1989).  One species, the Siberian Musk Deer (Moschus moschiferus), native to mountains of China, Korea, Mongolia and Far Eastern Russia, has declined to endangered status as a result of this trade and is listed on Appendix I of CITES. 
     In 1987, 800 pounds of musk worth $14 million were smuggled out of China, the product of 53,000 male deer.  More than 100,000 deer had been killed in the quest for these glands, since many of the dead deer were females and young which were discarded.  The glands were exported to Japan (Schaller 1993).  An average of 700 pounds of musk are sold in world markets each year, much of it going to Hong Kong, the international center for musk; Japan is a major consumer, using musk to treat a variety of illnesses (Fitzgerald 1989).  Between 1974 and 1983, Japan imported between 250 and 700 pounds of musk per year, worth an average of $4.2 million; imports increased in 1987 to 1,800 pounds, an all time high, and sold for $32,468 a pound! (Fitzgerald 1989).  French perfumes known to use musk include Chanel No. 5 and Madame Rochas (Fitzgerald 1989).  From 1990 to 1994, half of Russia's musk deer were killed by poachers, and their glands were smuggled into northeastern China and South Korea (Galster 1996).  A 1997 survey found that stores in southern Yunnan sold musk and medicine from these deer (Li and Wang 1999).  Musk and medicine from it from three other species of musk deer were also seen in this survey.  Musk deer native to Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan are listed on CITES Appendix I, while other species and populations are on Appendix II.  Such listing is completely illogical in terms of enforcement, since only the glands are traded and cannot be identified as to species or population. 
     Musk deer (genus Moschus) are so different from other deer that some scientists place them in a separate family, the Moschidae (Nowak 1999).  These small deer resemble hares because of their large hindquarters, the shape of their heads, and their long, thin legs.  These are the only deer that climb low trees to feed on leaves, mosses and nuts (Grzimek 1968).

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