Viagra: between the horned and the horny

What comes to mind when you see the phrase “Viagra helps save endangered species”? You may be picturing a toothless but newly inspired panda mounting his world-weary zoomate, thereby expanding rather than ex-panda-ing the population. But that’s not where this story is headed. Follow this logic: endangered species get slaughtered with horrific regularity because there is a market for them. Why is there a market? The single biggest reason is traditional medicine based on the ancient belief of sympathetic magic. Here is a quote from the Trade Environment Database at American University (TED): “In Chinese Traditional Medicine, animal parts are reputed to endow a man with the potency of the animal itself, or with the potency implied by the shape of the appendage.” Want to be as strong as a tiger? Eat some tiger bone. Order today, as supplies are limited!

Being as strong as a tiger is all well and good, but few medical treatments generate more interest than those that treat impotence, and this is where Viagra fits into the picture. Reasoning with the logic of sympathetic magic, tiger penis and rhino horn (hubba hubba!) are prescribed for impotence. And while they may provide an important placebo boost to the credulous afflicted, Viagra has the strength of modern biochemistry behind it. It works. The big question is: will demand for dead animal magic drop as Viagra sales in Asia rise? There are some indications that the answer may be yes. As reported in the Economist, “Frank von Hippel, of the University of Alaska, in Anchorage, and his brother Bill, of the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, have shown that the trade in such exotica as seal penises is falling rapidly. They suspect, though they cannot yet prove, that this is because men with ‘vigour’ problems who once placed their faith in penis soup have found that Viagra works rather better.” This is a very appealing story, though it may be too late to help the vanishing tiger and rhino populations. And besides, as we read on the TED site, “Tiger bone is used to cure rheumatism, muscle pain and paralysis. Rhino horn is prescribed for delirium.” It might well be said that rhino horn causes delirium. The extinction of the animal might ultimately be the only real cure for the devotion to the potion.