Traditional medicine poses threat to primates in NE

Flesh, blood and bones: Traditional medicine poses threat to primates in the Northeast

Several tribes are killing and using body parts of at least 7 out of 11 primate species to prepare traditional medicines

Traditional medicines prepared by several tribes poses a threat to primates like the pig-tailed monkey. Credit: Special Arrangement

The flesh of Hoolock Gibbons, an endangered primate species is cooked and consumed to fight anemia, while a paste of its brain tissue is used to get rid of toothache or headache. Its blood is also used to cure ailments like asthma, tuberculosis or liver cirrhosis.

The brain of an Assamese macaque, a 'near threatened' species is also consumed to increase the strength of pregnant women or help control blood pressure.

These may sound strange but a study conducted by an expert team from Assam University has found that several tribes in the Northeast, a biodiversity hotspot, are killing and using body parts of at least seven out of 11 primate species to prepare traditional medicines.

"The study found that the primates are used for treatment of diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox and typhoid. Among the primates used for ethno-zoological practices, Hoolock Gibbon is mostly used followed by different Macaca species. Flesh is significantly preferred for the ethno-zoological purposes followed by blood, brain and bones," said the study.

Also Read | 27 monkeys held by Nasa were euthanised in a single day in 2019: Report

The revelations are part of a study conducted by a team comprising Parthankar Choudhury, a professor of Wildlife Conservation Research Laboratory of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences and two PhD scholars – Deborah Daolagupu and Nazimur Rahman Talukdar. The researchers belong to Assam University, situated in Silchar.

Findings of the study titled 'Ethnozoological Use of Primates in Northeastern India' were published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa on Sunday. 

Choudhury said the report was prepared based on a field study as well as study of existing literature and reports.

"The materials used for treatment ranged from flesh, limb bones, skull bone, brain, gall bladder, body fat, blood bone marrow, body fur to bile. These body parts were either used fresh or dried (preserved) and they were consumed raw or cooked either alone or by combining them with other herbs and materials," he said.

Citing some of the examples, the report says fresh brain tissues of Hoolock Gibbon was found to be used by Biate tribes of Dima Hasao district in Assam as they believe that it acts as an invigorating stimulant for pregnant women. In Mizoram, brain tissue in paste form is applied for toothache, taken orally to get rid of headaches, and sometimes dried and used as a powder.

Some local tribes of Arunachal Pradesh believe that the consumpton of a fresh brain of the macaque controls blood pressure and cures nausea. Lushai tribes of Mizoram consume it for gaining physical strength. The Meitei women of Manipur take the brain of Rhesus Macaque during postnatal period, the report said. 

"In Arunachal Pradesh, the Tangsa tribe use the fresh blood of Hoolock Gibbons to cure diseases such as asthma, malaria, tuberculosis, liver cirrhosis, and weakness caused by hypovolemia (decreased blood volume)," it said.

The report said apart from being a traditional practice that is passed on to the next generation, the lack of healthcare facilities in remote and hilly locations was one of the main factors for the existence of such practices.

"Many endangered and vulnerable primates are killed to obtain the desired organs or body parts. This sets pressure on the survival of the species in particular and on the biodiversity of the region in general. All the primates of Northeastern India are facing multiple threats, and hence the tribes should not be allowed to hunt them.

Unlike plants, there is no scientific evidence for the medicinal values of primates, and since cheaper and easier medicines are available almost everywhere, communities should be barred from killing such precious animals. Governments should also take up initiatives to open adequate health care centers and hospitals in the interior villages," the team said.

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