From: Erin Crandall, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published August 11, 2014 08:53 AM

Chinese Traditional Medicine Threatens Turtle Populations

For thousands of years turtles have been used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments and diseases. Originally published in the journal Radiata and recently republished HerpDigest David S. Lee and Liao Shi Kun write, "[In Chinese culture] turtles are symbolic of long life, personal wealth, fertility, strength, and happy households."

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Despite a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a causative link between turtle consumption and medicinal benefits, many people in China believe they provide benefits such as maintaining youthful beauty in women and improving sexual function in men. Because of these beliefs and their symbolic importance, turtles have been highly sought after for more than 3,000 years. However, in recent years, China's economy has changed in a way that has become increasingly threatening to the country's wild turtle populations.

The most common species used are the yellow pond turtle (Mauremys mutica), the Chinese three-striped box turtle (Cuora trifasciata), the yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata), the Chinese big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum), Reeves' turtle (Mauremys reevesii), the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) and Chinese soft-shell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis). Many of these species -- including the Chinese three-striped and yellow margined box turtle and the Chinese big-headed turtle -- are either extinct or are dangerously close to it in the wild.

In traditional medicine, every last part of the turtle is consumed, including their turtle meat, as well as their skin, heads, eggs, shells and even their blood, urine, and bile. The eggs, blood and bile are all added to wine to provide particular cures, whereas the skin and head are eaten alone. The shell can either be ground into powder or boiled in water, and the urine is used as drops in the ear or consumed as a beverage.

These various concoctions are believed to cure coughs, prolapse of the rectum, deafness, cancer and everything in between. The wide variety of uses as well as the simple fact that they can be transported and kept alive for long periods of time post-capture has made turtles highly desirable ingredients for traditional medicine.

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Turtle image via Shutterstock.

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