Saturday, November 19, 2011

Claims of Curing AIDS Lead to Surge in Illegal Smuggling of Tokay Geckos

A Tokay gecko

It has been recently reported by a conservation group that claims of curing AIDS has resulted in a sharp increase of smuggling Tokay geckos. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, a wildlife monitoring network, stated in a report that the demand for these geckos has surged in recent years after online blogs, newspaper articles, and wildlife traders applauded the consumption of the geckos' tongue and internal organs as a miracle cure for the HIV virus. TRAFFIC further added that, as with any other wild animal, such claims were unfounded. In addition to that, the Philippine government had warned that using geckos to treat AIDS may put patients at risk. According to TRAFFIC's regional deputy director, Chris R. Shepherd, if the trade in geckos continues to soar, then it could take years to fix the damage being caused on the current populations.
Tokay gecko in Vietnam

The report further added that, besides AIDS, geckos had long been used as traditional medicine for other illnesses such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, and skin diseases. The lizards would be dried up and then ground into powder for consumption. In some parts of Asia, they would be made into wine or whiskey to boost energy. But the trade in these lizards has even extended outside Asia and into the Western world. Between 1998 and 2002, more than eight and a half tons of dried gecko carcasses were legally imported into the United States. Huge numbers would be traded within Asia and it is believed that Malaysia is a key center to meet demand, especially in China. This has led to various seizures made during the illicit operation. An estimated 1,000 geckos believed to be bound for Malaysia were recently seized in Cambodia, along with a couple being detained for attempting to smuggle nearly $1 million worth of lizards from Thailand to Malaysia. Another recent seizure was made on the island of Java when customs officers averted a bid to smuggle dried geckos to China and Hong Kong using expired permits.
Tokay gecko in Thailand

This article gives a clear representation of how the illegal wildlife trade has reached a whole new level. Usually animals that are victims of this illicit and lucrative business are believed to treat illnesses such as common cold, measles, etc. But now, there is another malady that has come into the spotlight: AIDS. And the "ideal" candidates for treating this virus are none other than Tokay geckos. These lizards were popular as pets, but have also become part of the illegal wildlife trade like every other wild creature in Southeast Asia. Initially, these lizards were consumed due to the belief that they would cure asthma, cancer, diabetes, and skin diseases. But with this belief, combined with that of curing AIDS, populations these lizards have plunged dramatically in the hands of poachers and smugglers. These geckos, as with any small insectivorous creature, are crucial for the livelihoods of people in the region for regulating pests and maintaining the ecological balance. Without the geckos, people would be prone to attacks by mosquitoes and other hazardous pests. Chances are they would resort to pesticides, which would lead to further damage in the region. This is why it is crucial to help these geckos, and put a stop to the illegal wildlife trade.

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