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By Shan Ross
From deep within the glens, Scotland's gamekeepers are supplying a secret ingredient which may explain why China's athletes have surged to the top of the Olympics gold-medal table.
Gamekeepers reveal today for the first time that they are exporting a secret weapon to China – the "pizzle" from Scottish deer, prized as 'the most virile in the world.'
Athletes use the male animal's sexual organ to boost stamina and for its alleged anti-inflammatory, immune stimulant and injury-healing properties.
Deputations of Chinese pizzle traders have been visiting the Highlands to view the deer, regarded as the most virile in the world, and have been training Scottish game dealers on how to process the parts for export.
The deer is a symbol of health and longevity in oriental medicine, with the first mention of their by-products noted more than 2,000 years ago.
Alastair Lyon, 42, head keeper on the Ralia and Milton Estate, confirmed the trade was part of the gamekeeping world. He said: "Stalkers sell off all the bits and the game dealer takes the carcase."
More than 100,000 deer out of an estimated 750,000 in Scotland are culled each year to prevent the herd and other animals starving to death.
Christian Nissen, managing director of Highland Game, venison and game dealers in Dundee, whose company received training from the Chinese, said: "The meetings with the Chinese have been one of the most interesting negotiations I have ever had.
"Every processor has the responsibility to attempt to sell as much of the carcass as possible.
"The pizzles are creating an extra income for the estate, just like the meat."
The pizzles, which are frozen or dried before export, are rich in protein, vitamins, calcium, magnesium and hormones and low in cholesterol. Pizzles can be consumed in various ways – defrosted and eaten; mixed with alcohol, which is then drunk; served in soup; or dried and made into capsules or a paste.
One of the many Chinese athletes who use old-style remedies is Yao Ming, the star basketball player who said in April he would use traditional medicine to aid his recovery from ankle surgery. He said: "There is no reason to dismiss it. It's been used in our country for thousands of years."
Katrina Candy, head of media and education at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in Scotland, said: "This is another example of how sought-after Scottish game is and how every part of the beast is useful and nothing goes to waste."
Finlay Clark, secretary of the Association of Deer Management Groups, an independent body representing those who manage Scotland's deer populations, said: "I have never tried it, but if there are any Scots athletes who want to give it a go I'm sure we could arrange it. However, I'm sure our gold medals have been won by sheer dedication and hard work."
Originally published on New Scotsman.com. For more information about the use of animal parts and pieces for medicine, visit Bear Bile Facts http://www.bearbilefacts.org/, International Animal Assistance Network http://www.internationalanimalnet.org/?q=issues/medicine.
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