Nepal 'Himalayan Viagra' Under Threat From Over Harvest

By Amir Khan on July 31, 2012 11:49 AM EDT

A rare fungus found in the Himalayan mountains known as "Himalayan Viagra" is threatened by over-harvesting, experts say. The fungus, Yartsa gunbu, is a source of income for many Nepalese whose livelihood are in danger because of the shortage.

The fungus, which grows from dead moth larvae, is only found above 3,500 feet. Men, women and children head into the mountains every year to harvest the fungus, which can fetch a high price on the market -- thousands of dollars per kilo. But every year, the fungus is becoming more and more scarce.

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"Over-harvesting, premature harvesting, destruction of the pastureland, and perhaps climate change are the major causes of decline," Uttam Babu Shrestha, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, told Reuters. "If this continues it could become extinct soon."

While there no scientific evidence to back up the fungus' moniker a Himalayan Viagra, it has a long history in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine.

Between May and June, thousands of Nepali villagers travel to pick the fungus, but while they used to find an abundance, they are now lucky to find a piece the size of a potato chip.

"This year has been the worst. Many collectors in Dolpa [an area near Tibet] returned without any," Shrestha said.

Dipendra Bhandari, a filmmaker who followed some Nepalese on their journey to the harvest, said that it is very dangerous, with many people becoming ill and dying on the way.

Tshewang Lama, a Nepalese villager, told Reuters that the fungus is an important part of the economy, and said the government should regulate it to protect it from further harm.

"It is a money plant. We should conserve it so the harvest becomes sustainable in the long run," Lama said.

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