Here is an introduction to a short documentary appeared on Mediastorm sponsored by washingtonpost.com (here watch the video):
"The wildlife trade is the third largest illegal trade in the world, rivaled only by guns and drugs. Every year up to 30,000 primates, 2 to 5 million birds and 10 million reptile skins are traded. Strong beliefs in obscure parts of traditional Chinese medicine fuel the development. According to ancient custom, animal parts are imbued with 'magical' properties. For the superstitious, eating the flesh of a tiger provides the animal's strength. Despite scientific studies proving these beliefs wrong, the trade of animals and animal parts continues largely unchecked, fueled by desire, greed and corruption. The problem seems insurmountable; one way of curbing the rampant killing and to decrease the demand for rare animals is by educating future generations and removing antiquated and false beliefs."
For me, this seems a myth rather than reality...Yes, indeed, traditional Chinese medicine does hold the belief that some animl parts can be used as the "magical" treatment to certain kinds of illnesses. However, what the documentary doesn't tell us is the underlying incentives to kill wild animals, i.e., for what purpose do those poachers engage in illegal trading? Again, animal parts. But what really matters is which parts do they care most! Intuitively, I just don't think the black market for traditional Chinese medicine can sustain the large demand of "magical" parts from wild animals. It's not even a universal economic phenomenon. What's more obvious to us is that we actually do not rely on Chinese medicine to treat our illnesses. Out there exists a much larger market for Western medicine.
What is really intriguing is the deeper needs of human beings. The pervasive worldwide markets for luxury goods might easily outweigh the markets for Chinese medicine. These needs are hard to measure, but they do exist. As a natural outcome, what we see is actually a small tip of a giant iceberg...