Giant manta rays driven to extinction by Chinese medicine

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Giant manta ray

Once again, Chinese traditional medicine, is dramatically jeopardising the survival of a wild animal and in this case it is the giant manta ray which can have a wingspan of up to 29 feet and can weigh as much as 2.4 tons. The Chinese believe that the gill plates of the manta ray can help cure cancer, acne and other ailments. The body parts of the manta ray have not traditionally been used in Chinese medicine. The gills filter out plankton.

Giant manta ray

Giant manta ray. Photo in the public domain.

There is absolutely no science in any context which supports the belief that eating the gills of manta rays can have a beneficial health effect for humans.

The manta rays are quite friendly and they approach divers out of curiosity which makes them easy to catch. In places where they tend to congregate such as off the coast of Mozambique, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Japan, Brazil and Mexico the numbers are as low as forty-two individual manta rays. They swim slowly which also makes them easy to catch. They have the biggest brain of all fish.

There’s been a 79% fall in numbers since the 1930s. Over the past twenty years trading in their body parts has soared. The decline in manta rays could have a negative impact on tourism in some countries as many people like to snorkel around them and watch them.

They are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List. They state that the fish has been “rapidly depleted by target fisheries”.

Comment: it is unsurprising to me that Chinese medicine is once again ravaging the conservation of another of the world’s iconic animal species. This discredited medicine based on superstition must be curbed through international pressure. The president of China, President Xi, vociferously supports his country’s traditional medicine which bodes ill in the long term future for the conservation of iconic species.

It isn’t just manta rays that are being decimated but tigers are the most high profile animal persecuted through poaching to supply body parts for Chinese traditional medicine. Pangolins are also being decimated. Can the international community please take steps against China to stop this? Otherwise dedicated conservationists are simply chipping away at the edges of conservation rather than tackling it at root. This is a major issue as urgent as climate change. Shark fin soup is another example.