It’s not just Putin this time, though: The practice is, by all accounts, quite popular in Russia due to its alleged health benefits. “Every summer, farmworkers saw off the antlers of thousands of maral deer a few months before they are naturally shed, boil the antlers in vats and use the murky soup to produce baths and steam treatments treasured by many Russians as a cure for everything from arthritis to impotence,” foreign correspondent Alex Rodriguez writes for the Chicago Tribune.
More passionate proponents concoct holistic cocktails by combining the blood with sweetened fruit syrup (or vodka) — a sort of Russian answer to the wellness shot. Sergei Trubchaninov, a supermarket supplies executive from Kemerovo, described his morning cocktail to Rodriguez as, “50 percent blood, 50 percent vodka.”
But why do this at all?
It’s because the blood is believed to contain a substance called pantogematogen, which purportedly has unique curative properties. Scientists at the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences support this belief, claiming that research points to pantogematogen as a potential treatment for numerous afflictions, including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, ulcers, impotence and infertility.
Which all sounds kinda legit at first — save for the fact that I was unable to find anyone to back up these claims in this country. A dermatologist I spoke with (who asked to remain anonymous) summed it up pretty well: “In all honesty, I can’t answer this,” she responded, when I asked her about the skin benefits of deer antler blood baths. “But if you ever need help with something more mainstream or evidence-based, please feel free to reach out.”
Whatever the truth, the process of collecting enough deer blood to bathe the Russian public is, for lack of a better word, savage: At least five deer had their antlers sawn off to draw a single bath for Putin. The Siberian Times details the horrific procedure:
“In the cutting room is a ‘press,’ which closes in on the stag from each side, while the floor lowers, so the deer is left in suspended animation, its head resting on a ledge, its hooves flailing but unable to touch the ground. The magnificent creature looks around bewildered, its eye suddenly bulging with fright. Four or five men are inside the cutting chamber, cursing loudly with Russian swear words, a process evidently used to intimidate the animal into submission.”
From there, the antlers are amputated with an electric saw. By all accounts, this is an extraordinarily painful experience. The chief technician at Novotalitskoye Farm, where maral deer are bred strictly for bloodletting purposes, told The Siberian Times that the suffering is, “Equal in feeling to your hand being chopped off.” No anaesthetic is provided, and because the antlers are quick to regrow, the animals relive this wretched experience upwards of 15 times during the course of their lifetime.
Irina Novozhilova, director of the VITA Animal Rights Center, naturally condemns the practice. “This is manipulating nature, without any sense,” she told The Siberian Times. “It is strange that we are discussing this matter in the 21st century, because the faith in the effectiveness of this medicine made from antlers comes from ancient times.”
Then again, are we at all surprised by any of this? The legend of narcissistic aristocrats prolonging their lives with blood is a pervasive and compelling one. Even here in America, Silicon Valley billionaire (and professional vampire) Peter Thiel has expressed his desire to inject himself with the blood of young people to reverse the aging process.
Compared to that, deer antler blood suddenly seems almost tame.