By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News
African wild dogs run free
Half of all wild canine species such as dogs, foxes and wolves are harvested for traditional folk medicines, conservationists warn.
According to a scientific survey, 19 out of 35 known species of wild canid are still used in traditional medicine worldwide.
For example, wolf parts are eaten to treat chicken pox, while jackals are used to treat epilepsy and asthma.
Such trade may place added pressure on some dwindling canid populations.
Details of the survey are published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation.
Red foxes are true foxes
The report is produced by the same researchers who earlier this year published a review showing that more than 100 species of primate are still used in traditional medicines and religious rituals.
To conduct the latest review, Professor Romulo Alves of the State University of Paraiba in Brazil and colleagues searched the scientific literature and other sources for references to folk remedies using canine parts.
Using only those sources they considered authoritative, they then created a database containing the details of which species are used to treat certain conditions in different countries.
A fox for flu
Of 35 known canine species, the evidence suggests that 19 are still used in traditional medicines, the researchers report.
Of those, five species belong to the genus Canis, including the wolf Canis lupus, the side-striped jackal (C. adustus), golden jackal (C. aureus), coyote (C. latrans) and the black or silver-backed jackal (C. mesomelas).
Three species belong to the genus Vulpes which includes true foxes. These are the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Cape fox (V. chama) and Pale fox (V. pallida).
Three species that live in South America belong to the genus Lycalopex, including the Culpeo or Andean fox (L. culpaeus), Pampas fox (L. gymnocerus) and Sechuran fox (L. sechurae).
Prof Alves team found evidence that canids are used in the treatment of at least 28 medical conditions, including asthma, arthritis, back ache, bronchial illnesses, chicken pox, eczema, epilepsy, flu, kidney diseases, measles and mumps, as well as the treatment of stomach complaints, snake bites and warts.
The parts of some wild dogs are even used in social, rather than medical contexts: in Bolivia, for example, the researchers say that cowboys believe that sitting on the pelt of a maned wolf will protect against bad luck.
South American grey foxes belong to the genus Lycalopex
A wolf for luck
Humans have a long association with wild dogs, the researchers note, both in harnessing their talents and seeing them as adversaries to be hunted or killed.
Canids have also been used in traditional medicines since ancient times.
Medieval manuscripts from Azerbaijan, for example, reveal that wolves, fox and jackals were used medicinally at the time, while there are records of red foxes being used to treat ear complaints dating from the 10th Century onwards.
However, today many canine species are under threat as their ranges are restricted and habitat destroyed.
Of the 19 species of wild dog cited in the review, two are classified as endangered and three as near threatened.
The trade in at least 10 of the 19 species is supposed to be restricted by CITES legislation.
Wild dogs are sometimes better able to bounce back from population crashes, say the researchers, due to their relatively high reproductive rate, bolstered by large litters born to young adults.
But the continuing trade in body parts for traditional medicines will add to the pressure faced by many species, the researchers warn.