A modern day O Henry story
November 12, 2007 10:09 AM   Subscribe

It was the early 90s and the World Wildlife Federation was trying to save the rhino. They offered up Saiga horn as an alternative to rhino horns for use in Chinese apothecary shops, thinking that the millions-strong population of Saiga on the steppes of Central Asia would buffer the demand for rhinos. The result is one of the most devastating population crashes for a large mammal species in modern times. There is now a fear that the Saiga will become extinct in the next few years.
posted by hindmost (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The WWF needs to go back to wrestling.
posted by mullingitover at 10:28 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


The "buffer" link has WWF's response to that breathless New Scientist article, including a denial of the claim that "groups such as WWF actively encouraged the saiga hunt":

WWF never actively promoted Saiga hunts. However, as part of its campaign in the early 1990s to stop the use of rhino horn, WWF did encourage the use of rhino horn substitutes, in particular the use of water buffalo horn. Saiga was occasionally mentioned as a possible substitute for rhino horn - in particular because in the late 1980s, it was believed that Saiga populations in the USSR were stable and well managed. However, by 1992, WWF had already noted in a publication 'Help WWF Stop the Rhino Horn Trade' that "Today, Saiga horn (...) is the most popular alternative. As a result, the Saiga antelope is again threatened. So although (...) Saiga horn is an effective alternative, WWF believes that it is currently not a viable alternative."

By 1994, WWF was calling for the listing of the Saiga on CITES [Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species] appendices.

posted by mediareport at 10:31 AM on November 12, 2007


Sometimes I wish humans had horns.
posted by Camofrog at 10:32 AM on November 12, 2007 [8 favorites]


How about telling the stupid Chinese apothecary shops to start carrying frickin' aspirin as a fever cure instead?
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:42 AM on November 12, 2007 [7 favorites]



The best solution would be to research the stuff the apothecary shops are selling. If it can be proven with empirical study that the claims they are making are false, advertise it loudly and shut them down for fraud. If it works, figure out which ingredient is creating the effect and synthesize it.
posted by mullingitover at 10:46 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I suspect it is really being used for a different kind of fever treatment. The I want to have a fever in my pants kind.
posted by srboisvert at 10:47 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


How about telling the stupid Chinese apothecary shops to start carrying frickin' aspirin as a fever cure instead?

Golly! I wonder why they never thought of that!

Come on, Jess. This is tough stuff; ask an anthropologist how easy it is for outsiders to come in and change entrenched cultural norms about medicine. The WWF made a difficult decision to shift the focus away from rhinos; it's easy to second-guess it now, after the change in female saiga mating behavior, but I can completely understand the pragmatic impulse. And they say they were among the first to back off from the saiga recommendation, which makes the 2003 New Scientist article look a bit over-the-top in its search for "embarrassments."
posted by mediareport at 10:50 AM on November 12, 2007


If it can be proven with empirical study that the claims they are making are false, advertise it loudly and shut them down for fraud.

Because we all know how important logic is to folk remedies. *rolls eyes*

Again, don't you think they've tried campaigns like that? And still are?
posted by mediareport at 10:51 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


How about telling the stupid Chinese apothecary shops to start carrying frickin' aspirin as a fever cure instead?

Fever reduction alone wouldn't drive a species to extinction. Rhino (and saiga) horn is used to increase sexual virility.
(on preview...what srboisvert said)
posted by rocket88 at 10:52 AM on November 12, 2007


The best solution would be to research the stuff the apothecary shops are selling.

Bwahahaha!

You can't be serious. Since when has serious research ever convinced people to ignore their cultural beliefs in sizable numbers? Just look at the modern US to see millions of counterexamples. Millions upon millions of walking, talking counterexamples from every strata of society, clinging to every delusional belief you can think of.

If Viagra can't stop traditional chinese medicine, what chance do you think a tedious scientific paper will have? All the publicity and enforcement in the world won't amount to jack as long as J.Random Citizen thinks rhino horn will make him pop wood.
posted by aramaic at 10:53 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Never, never, never base an FPP on the godforsaken New Scientist, which is little more than a glorified tabloid. They'll invariably end up as misled as this one.

BTW, thanks, mediareport, for setting the record a bit straighter.
posted by koeselitz at 10:54 AM on November 12, 2007


You sure this is due to the WWF? Your BBC link under 'population crashes' state that while Chinese medicine became a draw, the main problem is a change in the mating behavior of the species itself.

The other articles suggest population shifts, competition with other animals, and yeah, Chinese medicine.

Essentially, while I never knew about Saigas before and was happy to read about them, I think your premise is misleading because none of the articles you link save the refuted New Scientist article seem to imply that the decrease in the Saiga population is due to the WWF.

All the links also seem to suggest that conservation groups like WWF were pushing for a defense of the Saiga in as early as 1994.
posted by cavalier at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2007


Boners (and their flaccid reminders in middle-aged men) cause more of the world's problems than just about anything else.
posted by maxwelton at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Fwiw, China's at least nominally attempting to eliminate a lot of superstition. It's part of Hu Jintao's new eightfold path.
posted by mullingitover at 11:05 AM on November 12, 2007


If it can be proven with empirical study that the claims they are making are false, advertise it loudly and shut them down for fraud.

Studies have shown that acupuncture works, using those needles with the way they are inserted and manipulated. However, exactly where they are placed seems to make no difference. Has this changed the way acupuncture is taught and practiced? No.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:05 AM on November 12, 2007


Maybe if it was discovered that the horns had high lead content...
posted by Thorzdad at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2007


The solution to species loss is to aggressively arrest declining birth rates among threatened populations. In particular, I've heard that application of a salve made from the genitals of middle-aged Chinese men can have a dramatic effect on the fertility of threatened rhinoceroses, sharks, saiga and many other species. It's pretty much a panacea, if only politicians had the will apply it on a mass scale.
posted by felix betachat at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2007 [10 favorites]


Someone needs to introduce the Chinese to the bullshit wonder of homeopathy. They could get all the boner-juice they need since there's nothing in it but water.
posted by rocket88 at 11:15 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Golly! I wonder why they never thought of that!

Come on, Jess. This is tough stuff; ask an anthropologist how easy it is for outsiders to come in and change entrenched cultural norms about medicine.


I know, I was trying to be facetious. I'm just pissed at China lately. They seem to get away with an awful lot of crap while still getting to play with the "good citizen" countries of the world. Offering up one animal's horns to replace another one's seems pretty weak, like they were afraid it would be un-PC to tell the Chinese apothecarists with their ancient cultural traditions that killing endangered animals so old men can get erections is harmful and ridiculous.

Anyway, they apparently weren't too entrenched to listen to them about the change of animal, why wouldn't they listen to them about the ethics of the things in the first place?
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:27 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I always wondered where the term "horny" came from.
posted by itchylick at 11:29 AM on November 12, 2007


People do fund research into sustainable and non-animal alternatives in Chinese medicine but it's a contentious issue with traditionalists and petty nationalists and sadly change takes time. Jackie Chan and Yao Ming are involved in some campaigns, good lads.
As well as native debunkers of the bullshit aspects of TCM there's a growing environmental lobby here too and they will be some of the most effective agents of change.
posted by Abiezer at 11:30 AM on November 12, 2007


Aw, I did not know that about Jackie Chan and Yao Ming. Good lads, indeed.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:35 AM on November 12, 2007


Jess the Mess - most serious doctors of Chinese medicine have nothing to do with the more egregious stuff like tiger cock and rhino horn as aphrodisiacs - that's largely folk medicine traditions not really under the control of a medical body. There are some "legitimate" uses still apparently, and the idea is that they would be met from non-poached sources like animals dying naturally in zoos.
China has signed up to CITES and various similar accords; enforcement is not really up to snuff. The country is not getting away with it in the sense that no one is holding them to account, it's just that no-one's going to hold their feet to the fire over this. It's best not to get too China-bashing about these things. It only gets people's backs up and then it gets into a pissing match about, "but you do blah, blah blah." Which is fair enough in many respects. Results are what counts, any road up.
posted by Abiezer at 11:40 AM on November 12, 2007


You sure this is due to the WWF? Your BBC link under 'population crashes' state that while Chinese medicine became a draw, the main problem is a change in the mating behavior of the species itself.

I initially thought that too, but after a reread the BBC article mentions a link between the hunting and the animals' behavior:

However, some of the most dramatic falls have happened in the last five years, even though less hunting of the saiga is thought to be taking place.

The researchers believe this may be because the depletion of male saiga has altered the behaviour of females.


Which means that in this case, the animals' behavior is changing due to the different gender proportions. Which is actually interesting, because I was always taught that animals were slaves to their instincts and couldn't adapt. In this case, the saiga is going from a polygamous to a monogamous society, to the detriment of the entire species.
posted by meowzilla at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2007


see, we just need to make up a fake animal, and shape aspirin into a horn shape, and viagra into dried testicles, and we are set.

Of course, there would then be a shift in the US towards natural alternatives, as we would be exporting all of our drugs over to China's population, and we would start hunting those endangered animals ourselves.

Or maybe there will be an upswing in Human Horn demand.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:44 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wish humans had horns.

They have horn enough for me, Lrrr, RULER OF OMICRON PERSEI 8!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:45 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


"great prophet" zarquon, my magnificent reptilian ass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2007


There is a widespread myth about what people want rhino horns for - in fact two myths. The first myth is that ground rhino horn is an aphrodisiac. This, I think it's safe to say, is just what it appears to be - superstition. It has little to do with any known medical fact, and probably a lot to do with the fact that a rhino's horn is a big sticky-up hard thing.
The second myth is that anyone actually believes the first myth.
It was probably the invention of a journalist, or at best a misunderstanding. It's easy to see where the idea came from when you consider the variety of things that the Chinese, for example, believe to be aphrodisiacs, which include the brain of a monkey, the tongue of a sparrow, the human placenta, the penis of a white horse, rabbit hair from old brushes, and the dried sexual parts of a male tiger soaked in a bottle of European brandy for six months. A big sticky-up hard thing like a rhinoceros horn would seem to be a natural for such a list, though it's perhaps harder to understand, in this context, why grinding the thing down would be such an attractive idea. The fact is that there is no actual evidence to suggest that the Chinese do believe rhino horn to be an aphrodisiac. The only people who do believe it are people who've read somewhere that other people believe it, and are ready and willing to believe anything they hear that they like the sound of.
There is no known trade in rhino horn for the purposes of aphrodisia. (This, like most things, is no longer strictly true. It is now known that there are a couple of people in Northern India who use it, but they only do it to annoy.)
Much horn is used in traditional medicine in the Far East, but a major part of the trade in rhino horn is caused by something much more absurd, and it's this: fashion. Dagger handles made of rhinoceros horn are an extremely fashionable item of male jewellery in the Yemen. That's it: costume jewellery.


Douglas Adams - Last Chance To See
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:47 AM on November 12, 2007


Believe me, Abiezer, I get pissed at my own country all the time too.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:49 AM on November 12, 2007


Boners (and their flaccid reminders in middle-aged men) cause more of the world's problems than just about anything else.

"Did you ever notice that all the bombs and bullets and missles are all shaped like dicks? It's a subconscious need to project the penis into other people's affairs. It's called fucking with people." - George Carlin
posted by Mikey-San at 12:00 PM on November 12, 2007


Another species heads towards extinction, at least I got a laugh out of the plight of the Saiga.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:05 PM on November 12, 2007


It still needs to be said: that is one ugly antelope.
posted by yhbc at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pity the poor Lower Congolese Viagra-Bird, its name inscribed in blood in the Pharmacopoeia of the villainous Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
posted by Mister_A at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2007


Maybe they should spread the rumor that the dried ovaries of Chinese Virgins enhance male potency. That should mess with their heads.
posted by sourwookie at 12:40 PM on November 12, 2007


No way, yhbc! It's cute...it looks like the product of a forbidden love between a pig and an anteater and a regular antelope.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2007


I was with my woman this summer at the San Diego Zoo. We come across this enclosure with some fairly non-descript looking antelope guys. I read the sign, and discover that these are a few of the soon to be extinct Saiga, that these 15 are a large portion of the remaining population.

The kicker is, she's Tajik, and she's half way around the world from her homeland, and here are the last of the animals that are now all but extinct in Tajikistan.

"You ever heard of these things before?" I asked her.

"No, but I guess they lived up in the mountains. Hunting has become really popular since the collapse. You know anything about them?"

"Nope. First thing I heard was reading the little placard right here."

We took a couple pictures, and then went to see the elephants.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Am I allowed to be angry at the Chinese or is it incorrect?
posted by A189Nut at 2:09 PM on November 12, 2007


Am I allowed to be angry at the Chinese or is it incorrect?

You can try, but you'll just be angry again in an hour.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:14 PM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Harp seal penis works better than tiger penis (unless the tiger's still alive, and fucking you); dried ruminant horns are all the same. Might as well be messing around with that royal jelly bullshit.

What you lads really need is gin and milk: that's the ticket.
posted by breezeway at 2:52 PM on November 12, 2007


Offering up one animal's horns to replace another one's seems pretty weak

Yeah, how does that work exactly? I mean, who knew that rhinoceros and saiga were so closely related that you could use the horns interchangeably in a medicinal recipe?

*rolls eyes*

I don't know what I find worse; the idea that it's used as a dick drug or as a dagger handle material. In every case, there is a better product that is less harmful to the animals.
posted by quin at 3:32 PM on November 12, 2007



“Boners (and their flaccid reminders in middle-aged men) cause more of the world's problems than just about anything else.”

That and the sapping and impurification of our precious bodily fluids.

“There is no known trade in rhino horn for the purposes of aphrodisia... That's it: costume jewellery.”

Ah, yes, well, killing a species for costume jewlery.
*wtf?look*
No, no, no, we’re not eradicating the rhino to give ourselves hardons, we’re doing it so we can adorn knife handles. See?
Oh, well, that’s much better.
*gaahhh *
posted by Smedleyman at 3:55 PM on November 12, 2007


I realize that it's hard to get rid of folk superstitions and all that. But if it's true that rhino horn is used as a potency drug, wouldn't the appropirate solution just be to get Viagra to these people? Viagra's effect should be so much stronger than whatever placebo effect they were getting from the rhino horn that they'd never consider traditional medicine again.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:30 PM on November 12, 2007


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