Demand for Himalayan Viagra Leads to Murder and Arrests

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The demand and scarcity of the source of Yarsagumba, known more commonly as Himalayan Viagra, has led to murder and arrests as court officials in Nepal report the end of a prolonged murder trial where six Nepalese men were found guilty of murdering rivals in a fight over a rare caterpillar fungus prized by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac. Himalayan Viagra can fetch in the tens of thousands of dollars for as little as two pounds of the rare fungus.

The Himalayan Viagra “Yarsagumba,” which translates as “winter worm, summer grass,” is a fungal fruiting body produced by the fungus Cordyceps sinesis. When spores from C. sinesis enters the body of a caterpillar that is found only in the mountainous regions above 11,000 feet in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, the infecting spores begin to grow into stands of filaments called “hyphae,” leading to the death of the caterpillar. The hyphae then begin to develop into a relatively large stalk-like fungal fruiting body that emerges from the insect’s carcass after having sapped the caterpillar’s body of all nutrients. If a caterpillar is not infected by the fungus, it will eventually metamorphose into a large moth.

For centuries, the Himalayan Viagra has been used for medicinal purposes in China. During the National Games in 1993, track records by Chinese athletes were credited in part to drinking a tea made from the caterpillar fungus. Today, demand for the fungus is based more on curing a wide range of health problems with sexual health topping the list. Many buyers believe that the fungus is a cure for erectile dysfunction making it an Asian version of Viagra.

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The demand and scarcity of the fungus has created a profitable market for Nepalese locals who depend on the sale of the fungus for economic survival. At one time previously banned, the collection of the fungus is now regulated, but disputes over collection rights arise in remote regions where laws are not easily enforceable.

In June of 2009, seven farmers were reported killed by villagers in the district of Manang when the farmers attempted to collect the caterpillar fungus near the village. Because of the remoteness of the region, news of the deaths was delayed in reaching regional authorities. Reportedly, only the bodies of two of the farmers were recovered from a deep ravine, while the rest are believed to have been dismembered and tossed into a river in an attempt to hide the crime. Many in the village claimed that the farmers all died accidently over a fight that erupted over who had the right to collect the fungus.

By the time the investigation was completed, authorities determined that for their roles in what the media terms “The Himalayan Viagra Murders,” six men were given life sentences, 13 were given two years in jail for lesser-roles participating in the murders, and 21 accused others from the village were acquitted.

Reference: BBC News

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