An Adelaide pathologist believes that traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) sold worldwide have traces of endangered animals, including rhinoceroses and tigers.

Roger Byard, a University of Adelaide professor and study author, said that DNA has been found in 25 popular products. An arthritis medicine that is sold in South Australia even contained traces of snow leopard.

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“We thought herbal products would contain herbs. I think that was our naivety. When we found dog and cat, we thought this could just be contaminant, this can be explained. But to find endangered species was quite alarming,” Byard said.

Shockingly, rhinoceros horns are used in many TCMs for disorders ranging from AIDS to cerebral haemorrhage and they are sold at around $US50,000 ($A69,640) per kilogram.

Arthritis is treated with powered bones of mole rats and tigers while cancer is treated with shell extracts of freshwater turtles.

“This illegal and very damaging trade needs to stop. However, unfortunately, for a number of species, it may already be too late,” said Byard.

According to, Byard believes this is just the tip of the iceberg and authorities have often overlooked the role these TCMs play in illegal wildlife trade. Any control on the import and sale of the medicines has failed and it is also not clear what steps authorities take when these kind of cases are brought to their attention.

Related: Traditional Chinese medicines in Australia use illegal substances, not safe for use

In December 2015, a group of researchers from University of Adelaide, Murdoch University and Curtin University also said pretty much the same thing.

In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports, the researchers identified snow leopard DNA, arsenic, Viagra and other illegal substances present in TCMs. They considered 26 traditional Chinese medicines widely available and used in Australia. Almost 90 percent of them were not fit for consumption.

Moreover, more than 50 percent of the medicines contained alarmingly high levels of toxic metals including cadmium, lead and arsenic. Four of the 26 medicines had heavy metal dosage at least 10 times the permitted regulatory limit set by TGA Australia.