#ShockWildlifeTruth: More than 6000 lion skeletons have been exported from SA

2017-11-04 11:32 - Gabi Zietsman
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(PLOS ONE/ V.L. Williams)

(PLOS ONE/ V.L. Williams)

Cape Town - A new report highlights the legal trade of lion bone from South Africa to East-Southeast Asia since 2008.

Published in October on PLOS ONE, the report - titled A roaring trade? The legal trade in Panthera leo bones from Africa to East-Southeast Asia - analysed the legal export of lion skeletons from South Africa since 2008, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) issued its first permits.

In the period from 2008 to 2016, over 6 000 skeletons weighing 70 tonnes have been exported to Asia, specifically Laos, which took 51% of all exports between 2008 and 2015. 2014 accounted for 64% of all exports in the period.

South Africa was legally the only exporter of bones until 2013 when CITES issued permits to Namibia for export skeletons to Vietnam, according to the report. The country makes up a total of 0.7% of total exports.

SEE: Big cats worldwide threatened by SA lion bone trade

"Since few wild lions are hunted and poached within South African protected areas, skeletons for the legal trade appear to be derived from captive bred lions," says the report.

"However, confirmation of a 116kg shipment from Uganda to Laos, and reports of lion poaching in neighbouring countries, indicate that urgent proactive monitoring and evaluation of the legal and illegal trade is necessary in African lion range states where vulnerable wild lion populations are likely to be adversely affected."

Other African countries have also issued CITES export permits, but all their lion bone are from wild-origin.

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Ian Michler, environmental journalist that stars in the Blood Lions documentary, believes this report is another red flag for the species.

"Conservationists and predator researchers have been warning the South African government for some time now about the folly of promoting a trade in lion bones. And this latest research report is another clear warning about the potential threat to wild lion populations across the continent," Michler told Traveller24.

"Why continue putting the species at risk for the profits made by a handful of lion breeders and traders? Blood Lions calls on the DEA and CITES to review the lion bone quota awarded to South Africa."  

Lion bone serve as a substitute for tiger bone, a species on the brink of extinction due to poaching for their parts. The bones are mostly used in medicines, similar to rhino horn. It is argued that the legal trade of lion bone helps to thwart the black market trade by satisfying demand. 

The report states that Asian importers are happy to accept lion bone as a substitute, which is cheaper than tiger products, and they would also pass it off as tiger bone. A lion skeleton can go for about $1500 (R21 336).

(PLOS ONE/ V.L. Williams)

PLOS ONE/V.L. Williams

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"In African lion range states with no farmed lions, and/or those with smaller and/or less protected wild populations, vulnerability to poaching is informed by the drivers of trade and the magnitude thereof."

"While there is minimal evidence to suggest that the East-Southeast Asian bone trade is presently adversely affecting wild lions in protected areas in South Africa, the extent of this specific trade in other lion range states still requires urgent proactive monitoring and evaluation to substantiate and clarify these impacts and also those resulting from the trade in lion body parts for other purposes."

In July, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced that 800 lion skeletons will be exported to Asia this year to supplement the tiger parts industry, claiming that it would protect lion populations with legal satisfaction of demand.

A report called The Lion's Share however denounced these claims, citing that "it fails to take into consideration … that its decision will stimulate demand for big cat bone products. It also ignores the failed experiment in China where the parallel legal trade in skins from captive tigers has not put an end to wild tiger poaching." 


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