Environmental Conservation 29 (3): 277–281 2002 Foundation for Environmental Conservation
Sex, drugs and animal parts: will Viagra save threatened

Many species of plants and animals are used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat impo-tence (typically erectile dysfunction [ED]; Bensky & Gamble 1993). Some of these taxa areoverharvested for their medicinal uses and are now threatened. Efforts to conserve many of thesetaxa have failed because the market forces driving their commercial collection or poaching remainin place. Shortly after Viagra appeared on the market in 1998, we suggested that Viagra has thepotential to eliminate demand for animal sexual potency products (von Hippel & von Hippel1998). We suggested that the East Asian market in animal potency products could soon fall victimto Viagra’s success because Viagra is less expensive than many of these animal products (Viagracosts US$ 8–10 per pill in the countries in which it is legalized) and Viagra’s effectiveness isdemonstrated (Giuliano et al. 1997; Morales et al. 1998; Sadovsky et al. 2001) rather than hopedfor.
The first goal of this comment is to examine systematically which animal taxa of conservation concern are collected for TCM treatments for ED. We focus only on TCM treatments for ED,rather than TCM treatments for other ailments that also involve threatened species, becauseViagra represents a unique potential replacement for the TCM treatments for ED. That is, withthe introduction of Viagra there is suddenly a widely available and highly effective Western medi-cine for treating a widespread problem (Aytac et al. 1999) that was previously largely untreatable.
As a consequence of Viagra’s efficacy and popularity, certain species may soon enjoy a significantimprovement in their conservation status. For this reason, the second goal of the current commentis to assess the potential of Viagra to reduce demand for certain taxa of conservation concern.
We predict that Viagra has the potential to reduce demand for animal products for which the treatment of ED is a primary use and that the potential will be greatest for animal products thatare expensive relative to Viagra. According to these criteria the following taxa include species ofconservation concern that have the potential of benefiting from Viagra: sea cucumbers, pipefishes,sea horses, geckos, green turtles, deer and pinnipeds (Table 1). Although ED treatments representonly a small sector of TCM and use of threatened species in TCM, they are disproportionatelyimportant because of the prevalence of ED, the lack of alternative and effective treatments (priorto Viagra), and the amount of money men are willing to pay to treat ED (for example, note theextraordinary sales of Viagra; Sadovsky et al. 2001).
Is there any evidence that the availability of Viagra is having an impact on trade in
animal potency products?

Reliable trade data for many threatened species may be impossible to obtain because the illegalityof the trade forces it underground. Although time will tell whether populations of affected speciesrecover following the widespread use of Viagra, the most accurate way to immediately assess theimpact of Viagra on the market for natural potency products is to compare trade statistics forlegally traded species before and after Viagra entered the market. Viagra was approved by the USFood and Drug Administration on 27 March 1998 (Utiger 1998) and was launched by Pfizer inMay 1998 (Pfizer Inc., unpublished data 1998). Case studies can be found in the trade of reindeerantler velvet from Alaska and harp seal and hooded seal genitalia from Canada because their tradeis legal and records are available.
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)Sales of antler velvet from Alaskan reindeer were first recorded in 1972 and records have been keptsince, with the exception of the years 1978–1981 (Fig. 1). Although Figure 1 reveals that sales havebeen volatile, by far the biggest one-year decline in sales occurred from 1997 to 1998. This reduc-tion of 72% is coincident with Viagra’s entry into the market, and is 3.6 times larger than the mean Table 1 Animal taxa of conservation concern that are collected for TCM treatments for ED. 1Two species extinct, one extinct in the wild,
one critically endangered, three endangered, seven vulnerable, seven lower risk, and international trade in five species regulated by CITES
Appendix II. 2Mediterranean subpopulation critically endangered, international trade prohibited by CITES Appendix I. 3Green sea turtles
are not in the TCM pharmacopoeia for the treatment of ED, but their eggs are used for this purpose as a folk medicine. 4One species
extinct, eight species or subspecies critically endangered, 15 species or subspecies endangered, eight species or subspecies vulnerable, 12
species or subspecies lower risk, international trade prohibited in 12 species and one genus by CITES Appendix I and regulated in two
species by CITES Appendix II. 5One species extinct, one subspecies extinct, one species critically endangered, four species or subspecies
endangered, nine species or subspecies vulnerable, one species lower risk, international trade prohibited in one species and one genus by
CITES Appendix I and regulated in one species and one genus by CITES Appendix II. 6One subspecies extinct, 11 subspecies critically
endangered, three subspecies endangered, one subspecies vulnerable, two subspecies lower risk, international trade regulated in one
subspecies by CITES Appendix II and prohibited in all other species and subspecies by CITES Appendix I. 7Although rhino horn has a
long tradition in TCM of treating many ailments such as fever, it is not used as a direct treatment for ED except by a fringe element in East
Asian traditional medicine. The male sex organs are used to treat ED in Laos, Thailand and India and genital tonic pills are available in
China, but the use of rhino parts to treat ED is minimal. 8Three of the eight subspecies extinct, all five remaining are critically endangered
or endangered, international trade prohibited by CITES Appendix I. 9Tigers have a long history of use in the TCM pharmacopoeia for the
treatment of a variety of ailments, but ED is not one of them. The male sex organs are, however, sometimes used to treat ED as a folk
remedy, for example in the form of tiger penis soup or wine.
Part used
ED treatment
More expensive
Viagra has
a primary use?
than Viagra?
1993; RT andAssociates 1994;Malik et al. 1997;Southey 1997;CITES 2000; IUCN2000 [Worldwide Fund forNature] 1996; CITES2000; IUCN 2000; K.
Baragona, personalcommunication Figure 1 Alaskan reindeer antler sales (thousands US$). Note that the antler sales figures are for reindeer
by-products excluding meat, but that virtually all of these by-product sales are of velvet. Data are
unavailable from 1978 to 1981. Source: Alaska Agricultural Statistics Service (2001).
volatility in annual antler sales. However, antler sales were already falling before Viagra enteredthe marketplace, with a peak in sales occurring in 1991 (Fig. 1), so some of the drop in sales from1997 to 1998 is probably due to pre-existing market conditions. A comparison with reindeer meatsales is instructive because meat sales also peaked in 1991 and declined thereafter (AlaskaAgricultural Statistics Service 2001). Although sales of reindeer meat also dropped from 1997 to1998, this decline in sales only amounted to a 20% loss, which is only 1.1 times the mean volatilityin annual meat sales. The fact that meat sales did not decline as significantly as antler sales from1997 to 1998 suggests that the decline in antler sales cannot be solely attributed to an overalldecrease in the reindeer market.
It is probable that this drop in antler sales is partially due to the collapse of Asian economies that began on 2 July 1997 when the Thai government devalued the baht. However Viagra alsoappears to be a major contributing factor because: (1) an important sector of the consumer base ofvelvet is the East Asian community in Western countries such as the USA and Canada, and thesecountries did not experience economic decline during this time period; (2) Viagra sales wererobust in Asia even during the economic collapse, suggesting that sales of products that treat EDare relatively price inelastic, or at least not as vulnerable to economic conditions as are other‘luxury’ items; and (3) reindeer antler sales remained low in 1999 and 2000 (Fig. 1) despite therecovery of many Asian economies.
Harp seals (Phoca groenlandica) and hooded seals (Cystophora cristata)From 1996 to 1998, both harp seals and hooded seals were harvested in Canada at approximatelythe maximum levels permitted by law, or in excess (Department of Fisheries and Oceans 1999).
The total allowable catch of harp seals remained at 275 000 in 1999 and 2000, yet sealers harvestedonly 244 552 in 1999 and only 91 602 in 2000 due to poor markets (Department of Fisheries andOceans 2001; Panel on Seal Management 2001a). Similarly, the 1999 harvest of 201 hooded sealsand the 2000 harvest of 10 hooded seals were well below the total allowable catch of 10 000(Department of Fisheries and Oceans 2001). The Panel on Seal Management (2001a) attributedthe 1999–2000 collapse of these markets to reduced prices for pelts, phasing-out of governmentsubsidies on meat, increased use of Viagra instead of seal genitalia, and higher costs for fuel andammunition. The relative importance of Viagra in this process is unclear, but prices for seal geni-talia were down sharply in 1998 (coincident with the introduction of Viagra) and have remainedlow (Department of Fisheries and Oceans 1999). In 1996 Canadian sealers processed30 000–50 000 seal penises (Southey 1997). The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (2001)reported that, ‘In 1998, due to declining prices – $15 to $20 [Canadian] per unit, compared to $70to $100 in previous years – only an estimated 20 000 organs were sold to processors . . . There hasbeen virtually no market for seal organs in [1999–2000].’ The market for seal pelts and seal oilimproved in 2001 (pelt prices rose from Canadian $14 in 2000 to $30–37 in 2001), and as a conse-quence approximately 210 000 harp seals were harvested in 2001 (Panel on Seal Management2001b).
Other animal taxa that are legal to trade (e.g. many species of pipefishes, sea horses and sea cucumbers), as well as other sources of deer velvet (e.g. elk [Cervus elaphus] from the USA andNew Zealand) and seal genitalia (e.g. from Greenland, Norway and Russia) should be investigatedfor the impact of Viagra on their trade. Such data provide a proxy for the impact of Viagra onillegally traded species. Because market forces are driving the overcollection of, and subsequentthreat to these species, the elimination of these market forces may prove to be the most effectiveconservation solution. Acknowledgements
We thank David Mueller and Suzan Benz of the Alaska Agricultural Statistics Service, USDepartment of Agriculture, for providing data on reindeer sales. Dave Swanson and Doug Drumprovided us with information on the reindeer velvet industry in Alaska. Daniel Jiao of the AmericanCollege of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Hsiang-Te Kung and Erming Tuo of the Universityof Memphis provided information on products used in TCM. Karen Baragona (WWF), Maria delMar Banos (WWF), Kyla Evans (WWF) and Maria Glod (Washington Post) helped us obtain refer-ence materials. Vera Stecher of Pfizer provided us with company information and materials onViagra. Sheryl Fink of the International Marine Mammal Association, David Lavigne of theInternational Fund for Animal Welfare, and Howard Powles of the Canadian Department ofFisheries and Oceans provided information on pinnipeds. Allison Perry of Project Seahorse providedus with information on syngnathids. Anonymous reviewers provided helpful editorial comments.
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Sadovsky, R., Miller, T., Moskowitz, M. & Hackett, G. (2001) Three-year update of sildenafil citrate (Viagra) efficacy and safety. International Journal of Clinical Practice 55: 115–128.
Southey, C. (1997) The Newfoundland commercial seal hunt: an economic analysis of costs and benefits.
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Utiger, R.D. (1998) A pill for impotence. The New England Journal of Medicine 338(20): 1458–1459.
Vincent, A.C.J. (1996) The International Trade in Seahorses. Cambridge, UK: TRAFFIC International.
von Hippel, F.A. & von Hippel, W. (1998) Solution to a conservation problem? Science 281: 1805.
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resources/publications/species/w-rhinos/page6.htm WWF (1998) Alternatives to Tiger Bone Medicines. Washington, DC, USA: WWF.
 .  1*    2 1 Department of Biological Sciences and Environment and Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of Alaska Anchorage3211 Providence DriveAnchorage, AK 99508-8104, USA2 School of PsychologyUniversity of New South WalesSydney 2052, Australia* Correspondence: Dr Frank A. von Hippel Tel: ϩ1 907 786 4783 Fax: ϩ1 907 786 4607


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