By Matthew Laratonda
LONDON (Reuters) - The amount of medicinal products containing illegal wildlife parts seized by EU authorities has risen sharply in the last six years, according to monitoring group TRAFFIC, and includes items from a range of animals including tigers, bears and snakes.
EU authorities made 952 seizures of illegal wildlife medicines in 2016, up from 174 in 2011, a report by the group said.
A range of seized medicinal items found at a lock-up near Britain's Heathrow airport contained ingredients including Asiatic bears' stomach bile and tiger bone and a threatened species of South African cactus.
The medicines, such as Red Ant, a popular remedy from China that contains seahorse as a key ingredient, purport to treat everything from erectile dysfunction to cancer.
Many of the medicines originate in Africa, and a significant portion are destined for markets in Asia.
In the evidence lockup near Britain's Heathrow airport, home to a menagerie of confiscated wildlife contraband, UK Border Force investigator Jan Sowa picks up a tonic bottle from Asia, containing an entire snake.
"Most frequently we see these as tourist souvenirs, rather than serious medicinal aids," Sowa says of the snake bottle, noting its English labeling.
The United Nations estimates the global market for illegal wildlife medicines is valued at $3.4 billion.
(Writing by Matthew Larotonda in London, Editing by William Maclean)