The coronavirus outbreak, which Chinese scientists believe has originated from a snake sold in a Wuhan meat market, has shone a spotlight on the country’s practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. A report released last week identified the snake from which the virus is believed to have transferred to humans as either the Chinese cobra or the many-banded krait – both of which are believed to have properties in the practice of TCM. The Chinese government has put a freeze on all wildlife trading as a precaution amidst calls for more permanent action on a business that has more than one caveat.
According to data from analyst Leadleo, the TCM market in China is growing steadily and is supposed to reach revenues of 844 billion Yuan Renminbi ($123 billion) in 2023. Strong demand is expected to cause the segment to grow by 6 percent from 2019, up from a growth of only 2.1 percent between 2014 and 2018. According to analysts from GF Group, TCM segment growth exceeds that of the “chemical” pharmaceutical market in the country.
While wild animals only represent a small portion of all materials used in TCM, the practice nevertheless poses not only the risk of infectious diseases, but also threatens biodiversity. Endangered animals like the tiger, the rhino and the pangolin continue to be hunted because of their use in TCM and fetch high prices on the black market.
Both SARS and the new coronavirus are believed to have originated in bats. Both viruses passed on to humans through other wild host animals – in the case of SARS this is believed to be the civet, also hunted or bred for its TCM properties.