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Alarming rise in manta and mobula rays killed for their gills

11/06/2014 16:08:23

Slow breeding manta and mobula rays are under pressure from the trade in their gills © Brian Adams

A WildAid report has revealed an alarming and unsustainable increase in the number of manta and mobula rays killed to supply a single ingredient – their gills – for a pseudo-medicinal health tonic in south China.

In addition, the dried gills were found to contain dangerous levels of toxic substances that could actually damage people’s health.

WildAid, which solely focused on reducing the demand for wildlife products, estimates that 99 per cent of the world’s manta gill consumers located in Guangzhou, China.

When toxicology tests were conducted on the dried gills, which are marketed as a product called Peng Yu Sai, from stalls in Guangzhou market, they were found to contain arsenic and cadmium levels far exceeding permissible limits in herbal medicines and foods as outlined by the Pharmacopoeia of China.

All interviewed vendors asserted that the product aids in preventing, relieving, or curing a range of diseases and complaints including: cancer, chicken pox, chronic cough, fever, and acne; boosts the immune system and supports lactation in new mothers all by purifying the blood to promote general good health.

The presence of toxic heavy metals raises important concerns about its use by lactating mothers and children.

WildAid has launched a multimedia campaign including billboards, social media, television and radio messages, as well as in-depth TV news stories to inform the public of the ecological and potential human health impacts of consuming Peng Yu Sai.

“Guangzhou has quickly become the hub of the manta ray gill trade, and our surveys suggest a surge in consumption that has more than doubled over the last three years,” said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid.

“Together with assistance from the Chinese government and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, we want to raise awareness among China’s consumers of the trade of manta ray gills and the issues surrounding their alleged medicinal values.

“In an independent, public survey we discovered that a majority of consumers are unaware that mantas are endangered and would gladly stop eating the gills once informed of this status.”

Manta and mobula populations cannot withstand the pressure of continually increasing market-driven demand for their gill plates. Already known to be among the slowest to reproduce of all sharks and rays, newer data on manta ray reproduction suggest that they may reproduce even more slowly than previously believed, with a maximum lifetime reproduction potential estimated at only 5-15 offspring.

Therefore, the need for conservation action is even more immediately needed today.

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