That superstitions or irrational beliefs are harmless, seems to be a general opinion, which is sadly not the case. If you have lived in delusion all this while, here’s a list of animals that are killed because of irrational beliefs, which will serve as an eye opener.
Over the last 40 years, the world rhino population has declined by a whopping 90 percent – courtesy, illegal rhino horn trade. And the rhino, mind you, is just one of the 36 animals that are affected by the recent boom in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Strange are the ways of nature; while that’s something we often hear, a closer look and one would realize that even more strange is our behavior. We carry a rabbit’s foot and badger’s tooth assuming it would bring us good luck. When we see a dog eating grass, or cat washing behind its ears, we believe it would bring rains. There is no dearth of animal superstitions out there, but what when these superstitions turn ugly? Hundreds of animals are killed either because of the irrational fear that is associated with them, or because of some underlying belief, which is equally irrational … outright foolish at times.
These beliefs are so deep-rooted that people go to the extent of doing whatever possible to reverse the bad luck. To see an adder, for instance, is said to bring bad luck to a person, but to kill one is believed to bring good luck. When such beliefs are inculcated in people’s mind, naturally they would kill the adder not just out of fear that its sighting has brought them bad luck, but also because–like we said earlier–they would do anything possible to reverse the bad luck; in this case, it would be to kill the adder.
Insanity has no limits, and that becomes even more evident when we come across those superstitions which result in animals being killed in large numbers. Usually, this has something to do with long life, some incurable disease, or even impotency at times. If the tiger has become endangered, it is not just because of fur trade, but also because of its use in folk medicine.
Our Irrational Beliefs and the Price Animals Pay
The tiger though, is not the lone species which pays a heavy price for our superstitious nature; the list starts with the big cat and moves on to animals that you must have never imagined are killed only because of some irrational belief associated with them. So, here’s a list of animals that bear the brunt of our superstitious nature.
We often get to hear of tigers being killed in large numbers for their fur, which has a huge demand in the international market. But fur trade is not the only thing that is spelling doom for this species. Various body parts of the tiger, right from its whiskers to bones, are in great demand owing to the numerous superstitious beliefs associated with them. The tiger, which is considered a symbol of strength, is in fact one of the most sought after animals in traditional Chinese medicine.
Almost all the parts of a tiger have some or the other superstition associated with them. To start with, the tiger’s bones are used for making wine, which–allegedly–serves as a tonic. Its tail supposedly cures skin cancer, bones help avert spirits, heart gives strength and courage, brain cures laziness, claws give courage when they are worn on the body, and its eyeballs help cure convulsions.
Such is the demand for this animal in folk medicine in China that they have set up tiger farms wherein the animal is specifically bred for this purpose. Scores of animals are killed every year to meet the huge demand. Though the practice has been banned in various parts of the world, it has only made things worse, as limited supply has translated into higher price.
Current Scenario: Unabated poaching has already resulted in extinction of three of the nine tiger subspecies, while the remaining six are considered endangered.
Asian Black Bears
Like the tigers, even Asian bears or moon bears are captive bred for their bile which has a great demand in the traditional Chinese medicine. The bile, which is sold in the form of powder, pills, or solution, is believed to contain ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) which helps cure high fever, fractures, sprains, conjunctivitis, and convulsions. It is also widely believed that bear bile helps in improving eyesight.
Bear bile is basically a digestive juice that is stored in the bear’s gallbladder. It is obtained–or milked as it is called technically–by planting a surgical tube in the bear’s stomach. The process is but obviously very painful for the animal and only adds to the trauma of being held in a small cage. If the bear stops producing bile, it becomes a liability, and thus, it is left to die.
Current Scenario: Large-scale hunting initially affected the bear population in the wild as a result of which it is considered vulnerable today. Even worse though, is the condition of the captive bred bears which suffer every moment they live.
Cats (read as Black Cats)
In folklore, black cats have always been associated with black magic, witchcraft, evil, and what not. A black cat crossing our path prompts us to take a few steps back, take an alternative path, or even kill it at times only because we believe that it brings us bad luck. Killing a black cat to reverse the bad luck associated with it might seem like an exaggeration, but that’s exactly what was done back in the Middle Ages.
Even today, you get to hear about black cats being killed in considerably large numbers because of their tendency to bring bad luck to a person. In 2007, for instance, the Italian Association for the Protection of Animals and the Environment revealed that as many as 60,000 black cats are killed in Italy every year. It is also believed that the ritual sacrifice of black cats on the eve of Halloween continues unabated even today.
Current Scenario: Back in the Middle Ages, even those who were seen with black cats were severely punished or, at times, even killed. While that no longer happens today, the cats do continue to suffer at the hands of humans who will do anything to keep them out of sight.
For a rhino, its horn is supposed to be a tool which it uses when defending its territory, taking on predators, foraging, etc. Sadly though, the same horn has become the root of the problem for this species. In 2011, for instance, 448 rhinos were killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa. While the ornamental use of rhino horn is well-documented, its use for its supposed medicinal properties and numerous superstitious beliefs associated with it hasn’t been covered properly as yet.
It is widely believed that the rhino horn, which is made of keratin–the same protein that our nails are made of–helps in curing snakebites, arthritis, headaches, typhoid, and quite a few other ailments, and that too when there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to back these claims. It is also said to help you get rid of nightmares and hallucinations. In some regions, rhino horn is even marketed as an aphrodisiac, and in some, it is considered an antidote for poison.
Current Scenario: Rampant poaching has already resulted in extinction of the western black rhino species, while three other species, enlisted as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are on the verge of extinction.
Yet another animal which is likely to succumb to traditional Chinese medicine is the musk deer. The musk is to the musk deer what the horn is to the rhino; in other words, the root of the problem. The musk, i.e. the aromatic substance from which these species derive their name, has been traditionally used for the treatment of various ailments, right from skin infection and stomach ache to heart-related ailments. It can be obtained from the musk-producing glands i.e. the musk pods in adult males.
Such is the demand for the substance in the international market, that it is not possible for China to meet it alone, and that’s where the neighboring countries, like Russia and Mongolia, chip in with large-scale culling of this species. A conservative estimate suggests that the musk deer population in Russia has reduced by more than 50 percent over the last two decades.
Current Scenario: A prized substance in the traditional Chinese medicine as well as the perfume industry, the musk has been spelling disaster for the species. Six of the seven species of musk deer are enlisted as endangered by the IUCN, while one is considered vulnerable.
Shark cartilage is widely used for the treatment of cancer and osteoarthritis despite the fact that there is no concrete evidence to suggest the same. Thousands of sharks are killed for their cartilage, i.e., the bony structure, which is eventually sold in the form of powder or pills. The horrific practice can be traced to the misconception that sharks are immune to cancer which was held until a century ago.
Their woes don’t just end there though; sharks are also on the human radar for their fins, which–like the cartilage–are used for the treatment of osteoarthritis. At times, only their fins are removed, and they are thrown back into the sea, where the helpless species eventually die or get killed.
Current Scenario: It is difficult to figure out exactly how many sharks are killed because of the superstitious beliefs associated with them, but overall, an estimated 75-100 million sharks fall prey to commercial and recreational fishing every year. If the data compiled by the IUCN is to be believed, 26 percent of the shark species are threatened with extinction.
In the Southeast Asia and Middle East, cobra species are popular among snake charmers who make money by performing snake shows. While that definitely accounts for animal cruelty, even worse is the lethal practice of snake worship. The snake festival of India, Nāg Panchamī, has earned notoriety for the harm it causes to these reptiles. Every year, hundreds of cobras are confiscated from the snake charmers who capture them from the wild and exhibit them.
On this day, these snakes are subjected to intense trauma on the pretext of worship. It is a common ritual to offer milk to the cobra as a part of the worship. The snake charmers cleverly keep the snakes without water for a couple of days before the festival and therefore, when these dehydrated snakes are offered milk, they drink it readily. Milk is not a part of their diet, so when they do drink it, it affects their digestive system and–in most of the cases–causes their death.
As a precautionary measure, these snakes are defanged by the snake charmers, which again leaves them vulnerable to numerous threats. The method of defanging that these snake charmers resort to often turns out to be harmful for the species. Inadvertently, hundreds of snakes are killed on this day, which–ironically–is meant to be the day of worshiping snakes.
Current Scenario: In general, snakes–like bats and black cats–have long been associated with the evil and killed in considerable large numbers. The problem though, is that it is difficult to assess the damage caused as a result of this practice.
If any animal has earned notoriety for no reason, it’s the bat. In fact, bats are so ill-famed that they are killed only because people think that they would bring them bad luck. A bat seen in the house is said to be a sign of someone dying, while one seen in the church during a wedding is said to be a bad omen, or a sign of bad marital alliance. Nobody wants bad things to happen to them, but believing that something bad will happen to you just because you saw a bat is definitely uncalled-for.
There do exist superstitions which suggest that bats bring good luck, but it only gets worse as even these superstitions require them to be killed. Bat’s blood has long been associated with black magic and witchcraft. While there is no concrete evidence, it is believed that people continue to go by such beliefs. In folk medicine, various parts of the bat’s body, including bones, wings, and eyes, are used to cure ailments, like asthma and rheumatism, improve vision, and even to prevent balding. In the past, it was even believed that drinking a bat’s blood could make a person invisible.
Current Scenario: Though harmless, bats have earned a reputation of being evil and bloodthirsty. In folklore and popular culture, bats are often associated with death, vampires, witchcraft, and black magic, and this depiction has a crucial role to play in the prevalence of so many superstitions about them.
The aye-aye, endemic to Madagascar, is perhaps the lone species which is killed because of its unusual appearance. There is no medicine or fur involved, just fear; irrational nevertheless. Though harmless, the aye-aye has often been associated with evil. It’s unusually long middle finger, which is specifically designed to help it harvest insect larvae, has given it a bad repute with people believing that the aye-aye uses this finger to pierce people’s heart and kill them.
Some people also go by the belief that the aye-aye pointing its finger towards a person means the person would die. Because of such superstitious beliefs, the very existence of the aye-aye in its native habitat is under threat. Being curious, it is even more vulnerable to human onslaught, as it is more likely to come out in the open if it sees humans, instead of retreating in the forest.
Current Scenario: The species is not only threatened by these superstitions, but is also threatened by loss of habitat and indiscriminate killing by farmers who consider it a pest. Though it is enlisted as a near threatened species by the IUCN, that doesn’t really guarantee it a bright future as long as all these beliefs exist.
While most of the aforementioned species were killed because of traditional medicine, here’s one animal which has to bear the brunt of traditional beliefs – the water buffalo. It is believed that sacrificing a buffalo to the deity brings about prosperity, luck, and even rain at times. Animal slaughter–in the garb of religious and cultural traditions–is carried out in many parts of the world, though the occurrence is relatively more rampant in Asia and Africa.
In Nepal alone, thousands of buffaloes are killed at the Gadhimai festival held once every 5 years. The event is attended by around 5 million people from Nepal and India, who believe that pleasing the goddess would help them prosper and ward off evil. Ritual sacrifice of the species is a common occurrence in India as well. Every year, hundreds of buffaloes–among other animals–are sacrificed to the goddess Kamakhya in Assam, India.
Current Scenario: Though the buffalo is not a threatened species, that doesn’t mean they can be sacrificed to please Gods. And, more importantly, it’s not just about the buffalo. At the Gadhimai festival in Nepal, more than 200,000 animals, including goats and pigeons, are sacrificed over the course of 2 days.
These were just a few of the numerous animals that are killed because of our irrational beliefs. The lengthy list also includes species of antelopes, whales, monkeys, etc., which are used in traditional medicine, as well as reptiles, which are killed out of irrational fear, and a whole lot of birds, which are sacrificed to please the deities. All these animals are killed by the mankind out of their greed and that too, when there is not a shred of evidence whatsoever to back their beliefs. Now isn’t that ironic for a species which is considered the smartest on the planet?