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Publications archive - Biodiversity


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Wildlife conservation and traditional medicines booklet

More than 17 tortoise and soft shelled turtle species are used in traditional medicine

More than 17 tortoise and soft shelled turtle species are used in traditional medicine. (Photo: Leigh Atkinson)

Wildlife trade laws - protecting endangered wildlife

Australia is a member of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as are most countries around the world.

CITES requires countries to place controls of the export and import of species which are listed as either endangered or threatened. Where trade is allowed, export and import permits must be issued before the trade occurs.

In Australia, the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Imports and Exports) Act 1982 implements CITES and strictly regulates the trade in endangered and threatened species and Australian native wildlife.

What are endangered and threatened species?

Endangered species are those close to extinction and include many bears, rhinoceros and tiger. Rhinoceros horn is used in traditional medicine. From an estimated population of 65,000 in 1970, fewer than 2,500 black rhinos remain today.

Endangered species protected under CITES are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act. These species attract the strictest controls.

Threatened species are those which may become endangered if not protected from uncontrolled trade. These species are listed on Schedules 2 and 2A of the Wildlife Protection Act.

Examples of endangered and threatened species used in traditional medicine also include musk deer, marine turtles, wild American ginseng, leopard and seahorse.

Wildlife products and the Wildlife Protection Act

Dendrobium devonianum

Dendrobium devonianum. Roots and stems are used. All orchid species are listed under CITES. (Photo: MA Clements)

On 6 May 1999, an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act came into effect. The amendment strengthens controls on the import of products,

snake wine

Snake wine is highly valued for strengthening properties. (Photo: Leigh Aitkenson)

including traditional medicines, containing or represented (for example. by their packaging and labelling) to contain material from an endangered species.

The amendment ensures that all products represented to contain an endangered species, for example tiger and rhino, are treated as if they do, in fact, contain that ingredient.

The amendment was required to implement resolutions agreed by all CITES member countries. Other countries have already introduced these measures and they are supported within Australia by a wide range of traditional medicine associations, environment and community groups and all parties in the Federal Parliament.

How do I comply with the law if I am importing traditional medicines?

Before importing or exporting traditional medicines containing,or represented to contain, species listed in Schedules 1, 2 and 2A of the Wildlife Protection Act, an Australian import or export permit must be issued by Environment Australia before the products enter or leave Australia.

Failure to do so will result in the products being seized by Customs. Importing and exporting includes sending or receiving items by mail or courier, and carrying items in your personal luggage.


Half of the world's 220 known species of seahorse occur in Australian waters. There is a strong demand for their use in traditional medicine. (Photo: Karen Gowlett-Holmes)

Environment Australia officers are happy to provide advice on which species are subject to controls and the required documentation to accompany the permit application. Applications should be submitted at least 10 working days prior to export/import.

Commercial Imports

Permits for Schedule 1 listed species may be issued provided that:

Permits for Schedule 2 listed species may be issued provided that the products are derived from wildlife which have been:

Applications for permits must be supported by a CITES export permit issued by the CITES authority in the exporting country clearly showing the source of the products (eg. captive bred).

Personal Imports

Permits for Schedule 1 listed species may be issued as for commercial imports and for:

Permits for Schedule 2 listed species may be issued provided that:


Severe penalties apply for offenses against the Wildlife Protection Act: fines up to $110,000 and/or terms of up to 10 years in prison for an individual and up to 5 times this amount for a company.

It is also illegal to import any wildlife part or derivative that was obtained or exported in violation of the law of any other CITES country. For example, some countries now prohibit the export of all endangered species parts, including medicines containing endangered species derivatives.

Other controls

The Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is responsible for developing and implementing appropriate national policies and controls for medicines.

theraputic goods

Photo: Barb Smith

The Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 requires that all therapeutic goods (medicines and devices), whether locally manufactured or imported, be entered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods unless they are specifically exempt from this requirement. Registered traditional and complementary medicines are evaluated by the Complementary Medicines Evaluation Committee for quality, safety and efficacy. Listed medicines are also evaluated for quality and safety.

If you are importing or selling traditional medicines, please ensure that you have met any requirements set by the TGA. For more information please contact the Complementary Medicines Section on 1800 020 653.

Other approvals may also be required from the Australian Customs Service and, for products of biological origin, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

What are some alternatives to endangered species?

Tiger bone

The bone of a mole rat (Myospalax baileyi) or sai-long is one of the most promising substitutes for tiger bone, according to researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The Northwest Plateau Species Research Institute has found that the property, function and channel tropism (medicinal value) of the mole rat are similar to that of tiger bone.

Pig bone has similar pharmacological actives and early research also look promising.

Rhinoceros horn

The horns of rhinoceros and buffalo share similar chemical compositions and amino acids, especially keratin.

The New South Wales Association of Chinese Medicine recently documented the therapeutic effectiveness of buffalo horn as a clinical substitute for rhinoceros horn and antelope horn.


Photo: Greg Miles Using products derived from feral pests such as the pig and buffalo could help save critically endangered tiger and rhinoceros populations.

Wild American ginseng

wild american ginseng

Wild American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) used for centuries for chronic coughs is now threatened with extinction. Photo Allan Crawford

Other species of ginseng are acceptable substitutes. Cultivated. American ginseng requires an import permit.

Musk deer

Musk is taken from the scent gland of male musk deer (Moschus spp.) and used in some 300 traditional medicine prescriptions. The three main musk substitutes under consideration in China come from the Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), two civet species (Viverra zibetha and Viverricula indica) and synthesized Muscone.

Bear gall bladder and bile

The active ingredient in bear bile - ursodeoxycholic a

cid (UDCA) - has been successfully synthesized in the USA, Japan, China and South Korea. The synthesized product is available in Japan under the name Urso, and in the USA as Actigall. The gall bladders of pigs and fish (especially carp) are recognized by the Chinese Association of Medicine and Philosophy as substitutes for bear gall bladder.

Musk Pods

Musk Pods - it takes 40 adult male musk deer to produce 1 kg of musk. Photo: Sue Earle

In addition, at least 54 alternatives to bear bile exist in herbal form according to the Chinese Association of Medicine and Philosophy. Among these are: Chinese ivy stem, Xinjiand Peony root, Indian Mock Strawberry, Madagascar Periwinkle, Barbed Skullcap, Rhubarb, Chinese Lizardtail, Dandelion, Japanese Thistle, Chrysanthemum, Common Sage, Purple Flower, Holly Leaf and Hibiscus Leaf.