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Clashes over China's prized caterpillar fungus

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Looking like a small brown twig on the end of a crinkled yellow worm, the caterpillar fungus is for its believers a lifesaver, a cure for cancer and a potent aphrodisiac sometimes known as "Himalayan Viagra".

In a dirty, dimly-lit room in a backstreet of one of China's poorest rural towns, a trader combs his leathery fingers through a $17,000 bag of caterpillar fungus, lamenting the curse that its value has wrought.

The parasitic fungus, Cordyceps Sinensis, only exists high on the Tibetan plateau, where it grows through the body of its host -- the ghost moth caterpillar -- killing it and bursting out of the top of its head.

What looks like a small brown twig on the end of a crinkled yellow worm is for its believers a lifesaver, a cure for cancer and a potent aphrodisiac sometimes known as "Himalayan Viagra". For those who toil on hands and knees to collect it, it can mean death.

It has a potent status in traditional Chinese medicine -- making it almost worth its weight in gold.

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