Despite the headlines, China’s Government still promotes pangolin scales in traditional medicines

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China secured huge international media coverage when its Government-controlled State media reported pangolin scales had been removed as a raw ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) – but in reality they can still be legally traded and used.

The story that pangolin was dropped from the official TCM pharmacopoeia, a compendium of approved traditional and Western medicines, was widely interpreted as a ‘ban’ on pangolin scales.

Cover of China’s 2020 edition of the TCM pharmacopeia (c) EIAimage

But EIA has discovered they’ve not been banned at all – behind the spin, pangolin scales are still listed as an ingredient in patent medicine formulae found in the official reference book.

Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammal and have been identified as a possible intermediate host in the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, although this has yet to be conclusively proven.

Following the reports in China’s State media earlier this month, EIA raised concerns that pangolin scales might still be listed as an ingredient in patent medicines in the pharmacopoeia.

Now EIA has obtained a copy of the 2020 pharmacopoeia and can confirm that while pangolin has been removed from a section listing key TCM ingredients, it is still included as an ingredient in patent medicines – meaning the Government continues to legitimise and promote the medicinal use of pangolin scales.

Page from 2020 pharmacopoeia, including approved ingredients for the patent medicine Zaizao Wan – characters circled in green mean ‘vinegar-processed pangolin’ and those in red ‘leopard bone’ (c) EIAimage

EIA researchers cross-referenced entries in the 2020 pharmacopoeia with the 2010 and 2015 editions and identified eight patent medicine formulae which still list pangolin scales as an ingredient, including Zaizao Wan, which comes in pill form and is used to help blood circulation, and Awei Huapi Gao, a treatment used to relieve, among other things, abdominal pain.

Chris Hamley, EIA Senior Pangolin Campaigner, said: “Now that it is clear pangolin scales remain in the pharmacopoeia, it is essential the Government of China takes unambiguous, credible and decisive action to fully ban the use of pangolins in TCM.

“This should include the complete removal of pangolin scales from the pharmacopoeia, an end to the licensing of the production and sale of medicines containing pangolin scales and the destruction of all pangolin scale stockpiles.

“Without comprehensive action to eliminate demand for the use of pangolin scales in TCM in China, the ongoing industrial trafficking of pangolins and concurrent decimation of wild populations will continue.”

Page from 2020 pharmacopoeia, including approved ingredients for the patent medicine Awei Huapi Gao. The characters circled read ‘pangolin’ (c) EIAimage

He added: “Recent steps taken by the Chinese Government to strengthen pangolin protections are a positive move and we applaud the work of those in China campaigning to close the country’s domestic pangolin scale medicine market.”

Pangolin scales are in high demand for use in TCM, a major driver of illegal trade from across Africa and Asia into China.

The 2020 pharmacopoeia also continues to include leopard bone and bear bile as officially recognised ingredients. In March this year, EIA reported on the ongoing commercial trade of leopard bone products in China and, evidently, official promotion of medicinal use of leopard bone continues.




中国媒体于早前报道指穿山甲在最新版本的《中国药典》中被删除,消息一出国际媒体均重点报道。 但事实上,当地的法律仍然批准买卖和使用穿山甲。

《中国药典》是国家药用全书,收录了传统中药以及其他西药的纲要。 早前传媒广泛报道,把穿山甲在药典被移除一事误解为禁令,错误地报道穿山甲已被完全停止入药。

环境调查署查发现穿山甲的贸易并没有被禁止 即使穿山甲在药典中原材料的部份已被移除,其甲片仍在药专利方的成分中继续被入药。

本月初,官方媒体 刊登报道后环境调查署曾表示关注。现在,本会在最新2020年版的药典中以据确认,即使穿山甲在原材料的部份已被删除,其甲片仍在专利药方的成分中继续被入药,意味着药用穿山甲片将继续受到推广和合法化。


环境调查署穿山甲项目主任Chris Hamley表示:「药典中保留了穿山甲片是眼前的事实。 因此中国政府必须采取明确而果断的措施完全禁止穿山甲贸易,包括从药典中删除甲片,以及停止颁发生产和销售药用甲片或含有甲片成药的许可证,并销毁所有穿山甲片库存。 若没有以全面行动应对甲片在内地中药市场的庞大需求,针对穿山甲的猖獗盗猎和跨国走私将严重日益,牠们野外群种数量急剧下降的命运亦无法扭转。

中国政府最近的措施对保护穿山甲前进了一大步,我们十分支持在中国一直推动全面禁止甲片入药的声音。 」


另外,豹骨和熊胆亦继续被收录在最新药典为官方认可的药用成分。 本年3月,环境调查署曾在中国的中药市场中记录了多项含有豹骨成分的产品   ,显然官方仍然允许以豹骨入药。