Caught on camera. Poachers Shankar and Jyothi holding out a musk pod to undercover journalists at a Sharjah home Image Credit: Mazhar Farooqui/XPRESS

SHARJAH/ABU DHABI An XPRESS sting operation has uncovered a gang of Indian poachers who are going door to door in the UAE, peddling dubious medicines derived from the highly-endangered musk deer. They claim their concoctions can cure 101 diseases, including cancer. Already, scores of UAE residents have bought these remedies, paying anywhere between Dh4,000 and Dh35,000 for a bottle depending on the illness.

All musk deer species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) of which the UAE is a signatory and anyone found selling or buying products made from the antler could face jail, fine or both.

To get to the bottom of the racket, an XPRESS team posing as customers called the Abu Dhabi-based gang members to a Sharjah home and sought cures for arthritis and blood pressure.

The middle-aged husband and wife duo introduced themselves as tribals from Karnataka. Handing out a business card with local contact details, they went to business right away.

“Our musk-based medicines have guaranteed cure for 101 ailments where western medicines have failed. Cancer, myasthenia gravis, diabetes, you name it,” boasted the man who gave his name as Shankar.

“Many patients in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah have benefited from our drugs,” claimed his wife, Jyothi, as she fished out a hairy-shelled woody pod from her handbag and laid it on a table.

Within seconds, the room was filled with a strong musk fragrance. “We hunt deer for a living and spent years collecting these,” said the man as he gave a breakdown of the treatment cost.

“One gram of musk costs Dh107; you need 35 gm for arthritis medicine in addition to 25gm of powdered deer antlers which costs Dh40 per gram. Only one out of around 100 deer have this special powder in their antlers. We hunt many animals to see which ones have them,” said Shankar.


Evading customs

How did they manage to smuggle the musk pods (around 15 by their own admission) past UAE customs?” we asked innocently.

‘It was a big risk... we could have been been caught,” said Shankar.

The conversation is on tape with XPRESS.

In Abu Dhabi, XPRESS encountered another couple from the same gang marketing the ‘wonder cure’ to an Indian expat.

About 40 gm of musk mixed with herbal concoctions, priced around Dh4,000 was prescribed to her as a cure for chronic allergy. “You will see results within a month,” assured the woman.

The couple then gave out the cell phone number of another Abu Dhabi-based customer who they said has benefited from their medicine. A quick call verified the claim. A man suffering from psoriasis said his condition improved after taking the medicines while a 65-year-old woman who paid Dh27,000 to cure varicose veins claimed relief within days of the treatment.

Dr Layla Marzouqi, Acting Director of the Health Regulation Department at the Dubai Health Authority, said: “No one without a licence is entitled to sell any medication in the UAE, let alone unlicensed medications. People need to be aware about unlicensed people selling unlicensed medications in unlicensed places. The fact that this is not allowed by the health authorities is reason enough for people to understand that it is unfit for their consumption. Such unlicensed medications have potential long-term side effects and must be avoided at all costs.”


Why poachers target musk deer

Considered one of the most precious raw materials in perfumery for thousands of years, musk is a strong-smelling brownish grandular substance secreted by the male of the musk deer found in Central Asia, China, Mongolia and the Himalayas. The stag drops these woody balls to attract females and mark its territory. Each musk pod weighs about 25 gm. It is because of this tiny pod that musk deer have become the favourite target of poachers. Just one kg of musk could fetch around $50,000 in the black market, making it one of the most expensive natural products in the world. Since only a few tens of grams can be extracted from a single animal around 160 deer need to be killed for each kilogram of musk. It is possible to remove the gland without killing the animal but, unfortunately, this is hardly ever done and cruel methods are routinely used to trap and kill the animal.