Healthy living: wildlife use in traditional medicines in Cambodia and Viet Nam
Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 0:01
TRAFFIC in Conservation awareness, Plants - medicinal and aromatic

A selection of animal and plant products on sale as traditional medicines in Cambodia Click photo to enlarge © Mark Bezuijen   
Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 1 July 2008—TRAFFIC today published the results of field studies carried out between 2005 and 2007 examining the use of traditional medicine systems in Cambodia and Viet Nam.

The reports seek to improve the understanding of the use of natural resources in traditional medicine and enhance the management and regulation of traditional medicine networks to promote conservation and sustainability.

The scale of traditional medicine use in Cambodia and Viet Nam is significant, and both plants and animals play a critical role. In Cambodia, over 800 types of plants (approximately 35% of the country’s native species) are currently used in Traditional Khmer Medicine while in Viet Nam more than 3900 species of flora and 400 species of fauna are used in traditional remedies.

TRAFFIC’s findings are published separately as: An overview of the use and trade of plants and animals in traditional medicine systems in Cambodia (PDF, 4.7 MB) and An overview of the use of plants and animals in traditional medicine systems in Viet Nam (PDF, 1.2 MB).

The first examines the use of wildlife products in Traditional Khmer Medicine and its possible impacts on the biodiversity of the country and wider region. The second presents the findings of traditional medicine market surveys conducted in north and south Viet Nam.

Significant numbers of Cambodian and Vietnamese citizens currently use traditional medicine. Recently, trade in traditional medicine has benefited from the relaxation of international trade barriers and free market economies.

“Traditional Medicine systems in Cambodia and Viet Nam are important components of both national healthcare systems, and are often the only means of healthcare for rural communities,” said Thomas Osborn, TRAFFIC’s Forest Trade Officer in Viet Nam.

“Understanding which animal and plant species and products are used and traded, and their underlying trade mechanisms, can provide a useful tool to assess the sustainability of such trade, and provide an ‘early warning’ for species that are threatened by it,” he added.

Increasing demand for traditional medicine has important implications for the conservation of flora and fauna. There is growing evidence to suggest that many plants and animals have become more difficult to obtain in the wild, and a number of them are listed as species of conservation significance.

In Cambodia, 80 of the plants species used in traditional medicine are considered high priority for national conservation, whilst in Viet Nam, many of the animals openly offered for sale (bear, rhinoceros, elephant and tiger) are threatened and protected under international legislation. Currently 71 of the animals traded and used for medicinal purposes in Viet Nam are listed on the IUCN Red List of globally threatened species.

The reports recommend further research and increased public awareness and urges further action to improve information gathering and sharing amongst the numerous agencies, institutions and organizations involved in the harvest, trade and use of traditional medicine.

TRAFFIC’s surveys and the production of the reports were generously funded by WWF-US.

Article originally appeared on TRAFFIC (
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