16th January 2019 | No Comments
I’m sure you’ve heard of Chinese traditional medicine – there’s not much it can’t cure. That nagging fever would be powerless before some ground up rhino horn. Your woman possessed by an ogre or devil? Nothing some dried Pangolin scales roasted in urine can’t fix. And, the common martial failings of the 21set century would be a thing of the past if only we could all afford soup crafted from the saliva of cave-dwelling swiftlets – a meal which would imbue your regular John Doe with the performance of a benign Holmes.
While most people are aware of these usual bodies on the black market, they’d be wrong to think the list ends here (and wrong by a long shot). Focus has shifted to a new critter: seahorses. Well, strictly speaking, these small denizens of the blue have been in focus for nearly 600 years. Though there has never been that much of a demand, until now.
Following a decline in the consumption and supply of traditional medicine, in general, in the 20thcentury, interests are once again on the rise. This has not boded well for seahorses, especially when this rise bought with it the discovery of a new and evermore potent remedy derived from their dried body – we shall comeback to this later.
No one knows exactly how many seahorses are used in Chinese traditional medicine. A studyin the Fisheries Journal estimates that more than 37 million are taken a year when including things like bycatch. Other tales are more telling. In a single bust in 2016, 8 million of the little critters were confiscated from the Port of Callao in Lima. And, the freakish sex pact of seahorse partners seems to be making things worse – savour this moment for few writers are blessed with the chance to write such a sentence.
A Natural Freak
At times, traditional medicine might seem like it was plucked from a shaman’s ass, but in this case, it appears to be at least based on some real-world phenomenon. Seahorses are a natural curiosity. They are the only species where you could rightly say the males birth the offspring. Females will deposit a batch of semi-developed eggs into the pouch of a male. Here, the eggs will be fertilised and develop to term before they explode from the male’s chest – the location of the males ‘pouch’ would be commonly described as their chest.
These natural activities perplexed early humans and translated into a belief that humans could acquire some sort of potency and virility from drinking their crushed-up body. Now, all of the more than 40 species – 11 of which are endangered or vulnerable under CITES – of seahorse are considered fair game for this Isayama-like acquisition.
You might think birthing 2,000 children at a time puts you in a good position for at least a handful to survive. You’d be wrong. Well, in some cases there probably would be at least a handful of horse-faced freaks hanging onto the cusp of adulthood. But, they have a lot to contend with before they too may grace an explosion of youth from their chest.
Chinese traditional medicine is really just once issue. Granted, an innumerably large and pointless one. Habitat loss, climate change and fishery bycatch are a big issue. Though there is even interest in these critters as dried jewellery or as live actors in home aquariums. With all these issues in tow, some research groups believe the species may be extinct in 20 years.
In the world of conservation, seahorses have not seen much of the spotlight. They have been lost in the shadows of rhinos, tigers and pangolins – not to hold it against them. This has been a common thread for many species that existed in the somewhat hidden world of the meek. Who remembers the numerous tales of the Golden Toad? (You shouldn’t because they scarcely existed outside the mundane world of the scientific community).
Seahorses are far more numerous and fertile than Golden Toads were, even at the height of the species rein. And, their story is far more important too – not only because they are not 40 years dead. Recognising their plight brings a loud voice not just to seahorses, but small and obscure creatures everywhere. For if we can recognise the seahorse, surely the vacant keel hurtling towards us would not be missed.