Red junglefowls and red junglefowl products are in use for medical purpose in many countries across the Indian ocean. Stories about this animal were gathered and written by students. They are all part of a pedagogical project, funded by the National University of Singapore and the Université de Paris. The Bestiary site is a work-in-progress and a participatory educational tool, representing animals whose products or body parts are used to promote health and healing.
Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)
A Story by Reuvenn Shemander Hon
The Gallus gallus, red junglefowl or “chicken” in short, is the most distinguishable form of the tropical bird species which is prevalent across much of southeast Asia and east Asia today. Most prominent for its meat and eggs, the imagery of the rooster (adult male chicken) is also significant in Chinese culture and art. The rooster’s brightly-coloured red and orange plumes make it preferable compared to the hens’ duller coloration and smaller crown.
The rooster is a member of the Chinese zodiac, and is regularly used in folk tales and practices. The rooster symbolizes light emerging from darkness, due to its natural behaviour of crowing at the dawn of every new day. In China, the people in the Henan province practice the tradition of sacrificing roosters to ward off evil entities. Likewise, hens are used in the Shandong Province in wedding ceremonies as they are seen as a symbol of prosperity (Global Times, 2017).
As a staple food, chicken meat is pervasively used for different purposes. The sacrifice of chickens may be attributed to Taoist events held in accordance to the Lunar Calendar or during the Chinese New Year festival, where a whole chicken is a necessary part of a smorgasbord of other food offerings to the Land of God in exchange for their protection (Chinese Fortune Calendar, n.d.). Chicken meat is also utilised in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) due to the numerous benefits for human health it is seen as having such as improving blood circulation and detoxifying the body. TCM also prescribes how most of the chickens’ anatomy, ranging from its head to its feet, can be effectively cooked in an assortment of ways. Relating to Taoism’s yin and yang beliefs, rooster meat is considered to have yang energy which should be eaten by the young, while hen meat is considered yin which should be eaten by the elderly and women (Everington, 2017).
The Rooster or red junglefowl is a domesticated species kept by humans as early as 5000 BCE in China, as evident in the presence of bones buried in Hemudu site of the Zhejiang Province (Global Times, 2017). The red junglefowl is an endangered species in Singapore, as listed in the Singapore Red Data Book of 2008 (Choi, n.d.). The loss of its habitats is the primary reason and many have fallen prey to poachers due to their ground-dwelling habit. The red junglefowl population numbers are also further affected when the birds interbreed with domestic chickens. Although listed as endangered, the National Parks Board (NParks) is optimistic about their future as their numbers seem to be increasing in Singapore. This is in accordance with their classification by the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) as a species of least concern. However, due to the presence of farms committed to ensuring the sustainable production of chicken meat, I wonder whether the extinction of the red junglefowl would cause a significant difference to humans.
Value in Asian Medicine
The red junglefowl species of chicken and its eggs are a staple food in several parts of southeast Asia and east Asia, similar to chicken being the most consumed meat in the world (Nilekani, 2020). Journalist Maryn Mckenna in her book Big Chicken investigated whether there is any relationship between the invention of the chicken nugget in 1963 with the 1999 outbreak of urinary tract infections in Berkeley undergraduates (Mckenna, 2017). The shared element noted was the worldwide industrialization of chicken farming during the 20th century, which brought about a myriad of issues, as well as benefits, stemming from human dependence on the chicken for food.
In concurrence with the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to grip many countries today, avian influenzas have withstood the test of time since the year of the bird flu in 2005 (Nature.com, 2006) and is on the rise today where thousands of poultry have been culled in India (Upadhyay 2021), and Russia has reported the first case of the H5N8 flu strain being passed to humans from poultry (BBC, 2021). Similarly, the traditional misuse of growth-promoting antibiotics for industrial chicken breeding has resulted in the formation of resistant bacteria which can transmit to humans (Xu, Songthong, Mcneil, Tang & Chongsuvivatwong, 2020). One recent case would be the recall of eggs in Singapore from Malaysia due to the presence of Salmonella enteritidis (SE) that can cause food-borne illnesses for humans (Baharudin, 2021).
Despite the significant diseases that could arise from industrial chicken farming, the benefits of the chicken in the usage of medicine is not to be denied. In 2007, chickens were genetically modified to produce cancer-fighting medicines in their eggs (Jha, 2007). Likewise in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, doctors argued that chicken soup should be seen as an essential drug as the consumption of the dish led to an increase in nasal mucus velocity which helped to alleviate acute rhinitis (Ohry & Tsafrir, 1999). The therapeutic evidence from consuming chicken soup has spanned from numerous cultures around the world, but the earliest recorded evidence of chicken soup being used for medicinal purposes dates back to a Chinese medical text from the second century B.C. called the Huangdi Neijing (Faber, 2020). This aligns with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) being practised today where the usage of chicken in broths and soups is common to aid recovery and revitalization (Everington, 2017). This is also especially apparent in Southeast Asia where the Essence of Chicken, a chicken-meat-extract, is a popular beverage consumed as a traditional remedy for sickness, enhancement of mental efficiency, and recovery from mental fatigue. While the elderly use it as a nutritional supplement, students use it for anxiety relief during examinations (Clinicaltrials, 2017).
The countless health benefits from consuming chicken aside, the current situation of the world gripped by a pandemic is a sign for us to pay urgent attention to the threat of zoonotic diseases that can spread from animals to humans. While the breeding of animals for food is essential, care should be given to explore sustainable and safe methods so that we do not end up breeding the collapse of human race and of other non-humans.