So what's the problem?
Cordyceps sinensis has been used in traditional Eastern medicine for over 1,000 years. It is a fungus that infects and kills the caterpillars of Thitarodes ghost moths found in Bhutan and other Himalayan countries. The infected caterpillars are then harvested and used in traditional health remedies to increase aerobic performance and boost the immune system.
Demand for Cordyceps sinensis has exploded in recent years, with prices reaching an astonishing US$20,000 a kilo. This was due in part to athletes in China’s National Games attributing their success to the fungus. Demand increased further still following the SARS outbreak in 2003. Although providing a good income for local yak farmers, the rate of collection has soared and without active intervention, will almost certainly become unsustainable.
What is this project doing?
With funding from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, CABI is working with the Royal Government of Bhutan to investigate the biology of the fungus and its insect host. The project established sustainable harvest levels by monitoring populations and harvest levels. The aim was to promote community-based natural resource management – ensuring the local people are aware of the risks of over-collection and have control of their own Cordyceps populations,
Results so far
Following the conclusion of the project in 2008, the team’s work will be continued by the Bhutanese Government and the local communities in Bhutan’s National Park. In the long term, farming of the fungus and its caterpillar host may be possible, but in the meantime sustainable harvesting will preserve this natural resource for many more years to come.
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