Stephen Wiggins Article, Speaking Out 2 Comments

By Andrew Van Ginkel (first published on End Trophy Hunting, 12 June 2017)

Over the last two decades wild lion population have dropped from 30,000 to 20,000. This sharp decline in wild lion population figures can be linked to conflict with people, bushmeat poaching, habitat loss, unsustainable trophy hunting, and poaching for the illegal wildlife trade.

There are approximately 9,100 lions in South Africa. According to statistics published in 2013, 68% of those lions were captive-bred, and the remaining 32% free-roaming. Most of the lions that are bred in captivity are of little value to maintaining the populations in the wild. The majority of lions raised in captivity are not reintroduced back into the wild, and many of them end up getting sent to trophy hunting farms to be shot by trophy hunters. Over a ten year time frame, starting in 2003 and ending in 2012, there were 5740 lions shot by trophy hunters in South Africa. So averaging that out, we get a figure of 574 lions per year shot over that period for sport.


Image courtesy of Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary


The killing of the two elderly male lions, José and Liso at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa in early June 2017 shocked the world. The incursion highlighted how brazen the poachers can be that infiltrate places like Emoya which has 24-hour security and armed patrols to protect its property in Limpopo. Their poaching has raised questions about the safety of other lions in South Africa, and especially for those in captive-breeding farms, rescue sanctuaries and zoos. José and Liso, were rescued by Animal Defenders International from a circus in South America in 2014, and then relocated to the ADI Rescue Centre in Peru. In May, 2016, they were flown to South Africa with another 31 rescued lions, and taken by road to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.

In an article by Simon Bloch on lion poaching, Kelly Marnewick, the manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s carnivore conservation programme, said:

We are very concerned about the increase in poaching incidents of lions.” She also said that “These incidents appear to be linked to the trade in their body parts. We do not have a good understanding of the trade in lion parts and what drives it. However, it is clear that poaching is an increasing threat to lions and needs to be urgently addressed.”


Most of the recent poaching incidents involving lions have been at places which have lions in captivity. The attack on Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary was however the first poaching incident at a sanctuary that protects lions and that does not sell the lions or breed lions. The fact that the two lions were poached at a sanctuary, and the fact that they were in a way “celebrities” due to the fact that many followed their rescuing and relocation to Africa by ADI, made this particular incident stand out more than the others that have occurred in the last few years. Most of the other poaching incidents were targeted at canned lion breeding places, and due to the nature of these places people tend to be not as “sympathetic,” or as emotional over those poaching incidents. They were reported in the media, but they did not get the attention the attack on Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary received.

Maybe it is because people reading about these earlier lion poaching incidents knew that the lions poached at those places were destined to be hunted by trophy hunters, so their fate was already sealed, as sad as it is to accept.


Panthera President and Chief Conservation Officer, Dr. Luke Hunter:

There is not one shred of scientific evidence showing that canned hunting and legal lion bone exports take the poaching pressure off wild lion populations. In fact, it is increasingly clear that these practices stimulate demand for wild lion, leopard and tiger parts throughout the world. The CITES mandate to limit captive-bred lion skeleton exports from South Africa was a step in the right direction; with global pressure mounting on the government to ban canned hunting, we may soon see the end of this reprehensible industry.”

In an article published on the South African Predator Association (SAPA) website, and titled “Is the lion the new rhino?” SAPA says the following:

While rhino and elephant populations have been decimated, South African lions have mercifully been spared the horror of poaching, largely due to the efforts of lion breeders. They had kept the price of lion products low by satisfying the relevant markets.

The CEO of the South African Predator Association, Carla van der Vyver, had the following to say:

Security at lion farms has been designed to keep the lions in, rather than poachers out. Now that there is a real threat facing the breeders’ animals, they will change their security strategies. Because it is much, much easier to protect captive-bred lions, it is reasonable to assume the poachers will then look to the wild lion population to source their products.”

Carla van der Vyver in the same article is quoted as saying “it is significant that the first lion poaching incidents came hot on the heels of the United States’ Fisheries and Wildlife Services decree listing the African lion as a threatened species. This move brought uncertainty in the market with an expected decline in the number of lions hunted in South Africa.”

So there are conflicting opinions on whether lions bred in captivity are in any way beneficial to conservation. The bottom line is lions bred in captivity are considered “livestock” to those who breed and sell them to the hunting industry. The lions bred in captivity are not there to replace the lions in the wild, they are simply a commodity. The fact that a mere handful of the almost 6,000 lions in captivity have been poached, and that only a few get poached in the wild, to me does not in any way show it as being a situation where the threat of poaching justifies the “need” to produce way more than get “poached” in reality. The biggest threat to the lives in these places is not poaching, it is the trophy hunting business itself. Poaching just provides the cover to “justify” the need for such a questionable industry.


In a report published in July 2015 titled “Bones of Contention,” the authors, Vivienne Williams, David Newton, Andrew Loveridge and David MacDonald, have the following statements to make regarding the poaching of wild lions and the illegal lion trade in South Africa:

Incidences of wild lion poaching are rare in South Africa and not believed to be a notable contributor of bones to the trade.”

They also stated that “There have been various reports of illegal Lion trade over the years, which seems to have escalated since 2008, but there are no specific official figures available for South Africa besides what are reported in the media or by the annual reports on seizures and prosecutions by TRAFFIC (e.g. TRAFFIC, 2013). Most reports refer to illegal translocations of animals, especially between the Northern Cape province and Botswana.”

What the above two statements in the report say to me are the following:

1) The poaching of lions in the wild was not very common in 2015.

2) The bones of lions poached in the wild are not believed to be those supplied to fuel the demand for lion bones in the East.

2) There are no official lion poaching statistics available besides those reported in the media.


In 8 years, from 2008 to 2014, the bones of more than 4,900 African lions, both wild and captive, were sent from South Africa to Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China. The first evidence that emerged of African lion bones being used as a substitute for tiger bones in the “Tiger Bone Wine” was uncovered in 2005. Between 2006 and 2007, stricter conservation measures were put in place to protect tigers and Asian big cats. In 2008, the first permits to export lion skeletons from South Africa were issued, and the skeletons of 50 captive-bred lions were exported to Lao PDR. The amount of lion products exported to East–Southeast Asia from South Africa increased almost six-fold compared to the amount exported in 2007. The tightening of the conservation laws regarding the breeding and selling of tigers and Asian big cats created a shortfall in the supply chain that fed the market, and hence the surge in demand for lion bones and body parts.

In the decade from 2003 to 2012, 5,740 lions were shot by trophy hunters in South Africa. The trophy hunting of lions, most of which are bred and raised in captivity, is the main source of these bones. A trophy hunt of a 6 year old male lion will cost about R160,000 ($16,800 USD). A full lion skeleton is sold by farmers or landowners in South Africa for about R18,000 ($1,890 USD). A skeleton minus the skull is sold for about R12,000 ($1,260 USD). A trophy hunter tends to only ship the skin and skull of the lion that he or she has hunted back home. The supplying of bones to the East is a spinoff industry of the trophy hunting business. The number of lions shot by trophy hunters rose from under 200 a year in 2000, to over 800 a year in 2008. An interesting thing to note is how there was also a sudden increase in trophy hunters from the East applying for lion hunting permits from 2008. Prior to this the trophy hunting of lions by hunters from the East was uncommon. The hunting of rhino by pseudo-hunters from the East comes to mind here. Loopholes in the legal trophy hunting laws were abused in order to obtain rhino horn “legally.”

The drying up of the supply of tiger and Asian big cats due to conservation restrictions created a “gap” in the market for an alternative source of bones. The South African canned lion and tiger breeding industries quite “conveniently” had an excess of lion bones they were willing to sell to make up for the shortfall. Did the availability of a steady supply of bones also fuel the demand for more bones? I would assume it would, given the fact that the exporting of bones has increased, and not decreased over the years. SAPA tells us it is due to them supplying the market with the lion bones that there is not a big issue when it comes to the poaching of wild lions, but by feeding the market with the bones they are keeping the demand for the lion bones going. What will happen if the canned breeding industry gets shutdown due to pressure from the international community? There will then still be a market for lion bones, and no supply. This might then lead to more poaching of lions in the wild.

On October 7, 2015, the American television premiere of “Blood Lions” was screened. This hard hitting documentary was produced to highlight the negative side of the canned lion breeding and hunting industries, and proved to be very successful in what it aimed to achieve. On July 1, 2015, Walter Palmer killed Cecil the Lion creating further negativity towards the trophy hunting of lions. The killing of Cecil proved to the world that trophy hunters will do almost anything to get their chosen “prize,” even if it means bending a few of the rules. The circumstances surrounding the killing of Cecil were also questioned, and allegations of “poaching” were mentioned when the issue came under discussion. The line that separates legal hunting versus illegal poaching of wild lions can be a little blurred as you can see from not only the killing of Cecil, but when one looks at other similar wild lion hunts.

On October 20, 2016, the USA effectively banned the import of lion trophies taken from captive lion populations in South Africa. The decision impacted the canned lion breeding industries because about 60% of the trophy hunters come from the USA. Those against this decision are blaming the increase in poaching of lions, especially of the lions in captivity, on this drop in hunting business. Has this drop in supply of lion bones due to their being less trophy hunting of captive bred lions created a market for the illegal trade in lion and tiger body parts? At this stage it is hard to tell what impact it will eventually have on the poaching of lions.

On January 18, 2017, South African National Biodiversity Institute, which is the scientific authority to the Department of Environmental Affairs, announced its recommendation to institute an annual export quota of 800 captive-bred lion skeletons. Was this due to concerns raised by the canned lion breeders about the drop in business, or was this to open up the trade in bones on a larger scale due to the loss in revenue as a result of the negative press surrounding the industry. For South Africa to stop the canned breeding and hunting industry they need to come up with a solution to the “what do we do with all those lions” question. Is this the government’s way of getting the problem to go away, because if they did ban canned lion breeding it would become their problem to deal with all those lions which will need to be taken care of. If that is the plan then why have they not stopped the breeding side of things at least, and by doing so stop the numbers of lions increasing while they let the canned breeders cover their losses by selling their stock off to the bone trade.


1) Poaching of wild lions is not a common occurrence in South Africa, the majority of poaching incidents involving lions target places where lions are in captivity.

2) In 2008 restrictions on the trade in tigers and Asian lions were put in place. The tiger bone market substitutes tiger bones with the bones of African lions.

3) There was a sharp increase in lion trophy hunting in 2008, and trophy hunting by Asian citizens starts to take place.

4) Lions and tigers that are poached in South Africa have their heads and paws cut off, the rest of the carcass is left behind. This makes these poaching incidents appear to be a locally driven demand rather than for the market outside Africa.

5) Creating a supply of lion bones for the market in the East allowed those who manufacture products like tiger bone wine to continue supplying the market. The ban in trade in their local supplies of tiger bones simply made them look to alternative sources for the bones, and did not reduce the demand or production of the tiger bone wine. If the supply of bones were to be cut off there would be a demand for illegally obtained lion bones. Those pro -trade say the supplying of the market limits the poaching of wild lions, but what they fail to say is that by supplying the market they are creating a ready supply of bones and thus stimulating the market and not making it slow down.

6) Doing a rough count of lions and tigers that were poached in South Africa in 2016 and 2017, there were about 14 lions poached and 4 tigers. This is a relatively low figure and does not seem to be a major trend at this stage.

7) About 800 lions are shot each year by trophy hunters in South Africa, and there are about 6,000 lions in captivity in South Africa, most of which are bred for the trophy hunting market. If there are only 10 poached each year and almost none poached in the wild the threat seems rather low compared to what we are being led to believe by SAPA and the lion breeding industry.




2008-2014: The bones of more than 4900 African lions, both wild and captive, were sent from South Africa to Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China.

1977 – 2011: South Africa issued permits to export 7014 lion trophies to 100 countries.

2003-2012: 5740 lions shot by trophy hunters in South Africa.

1977 – 2001: Lion trophies exported per year from South Africa was under 200 a year.

2002 – 2008: Lion trophies exported per year from South Africa went up from 200 per year to over 800 per year in 2008.

2009 – 2015: Lion trophies exported per year from South Africa stayed at about 800 per year.



2005: First evidence emerged that African lion bones were being used as substitute for tiger bone in “Tiger Bone Wine”.



2006–2007: Stricter conservation measures were put in place to protect tigers and Asian big cats is followed by a sharp rise in the demand for lion body parts.



2008: The amount of lion products exported to East–Southeast Asia from South Africa increased almost six-fold compared to the amount exported in 2007.

2008: First permits to export lion skeletons were issued.

2008: The skeletons of 50 captive-bred lions were exported to Lao PDR.



2011: Permits to export approximately 573 skeletons from South Africa to Asia (China, Viet Nam, Thailand and Lao PDR) were issued – 91% of which were to Lao PDR, and 76% originated from the North West Province in South Africa.



2015, July 1: Walter Palmer killed Cecil the Lion.

2015, October 7: American television premiere of “Blood Lions”.



2016: 90% of lion carcasses from Limpopo National Park, Mozambique had skull, teeth, and claws removed.

2016: 42% of lions killed in the Zambezi Region of northern Namibia had skull, teeth, and claws removed.

2016: A 6kg consignment of lion claws and teeth was found in an illegal rhino horn apprehension in Maputo in 2016.

2016, May 23: Bela-Bela, male lion was poisoned, the head and paws cut off. A lioness was also poisoned, but the poachers must have been disturbed at this point in time because they did did not finish cutting off the body parts like the had on the male. The incident took place on a farm owned by Mr Christo Gomes.

SAPA Video Offering a Reward of R100,000:

2016, June: Two white lions were killed in their shelter at the Tzaneen Lion and Predator Park at the Letaba River Lodge.

2016, June 3: SAPA posts a video on YouTube about lion poaching. They offer a R100,000 reward for info that will lead to an arrest and conviction for of the people involved in a lion poaching incident that took place on a farm owned by a SAPA member. The name of the farmer and location of the farm were withheld due to “security reasons.” In the video the following statement is made “Until recently lion poaching in South Africa has been a rare phenomenon.” A figure of 10 lions having being poached in 2010 in the area was mentioned. In another part of the video it is stated:

Should the efforts to ban the captive breeding and sustainable regulated hunting of lions on ranches in South Africa succeed, it is reasonable to assume that poachers will look to the precious wild lion population to source the products.

Link to Video:

2016, September 24 – October 5: Seventeenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties Johannesburg. Lions were not upgraded to Appendix I.

2016, September 28: Poachers attack a farm, Leshoka Thabang, in the Roedtan area and poisoned two male lions and a female tiger, as well as the tiger’s cub. The animals were poisoned using Temik. The farm was owned by Johan van Zyl who died in a car accident on 10 September, 2016. He was one of South Africa’s biggest rhino breeders. Albert van der Westhuizen now lives on the farm, and Johan van Zyl’s life partner also still stays on the property. On April 27, 2006, Chris van Wyk and a Vietnamese client, Nguyen Tien Hoang, were involved in a pseudo-hunt of a white rhino. The hunt took place on Leshoka Thabang, and permission to hunt the rhino was given by Johan van Zyl. Chris van Wyk’s father-in-law shot the rhino four times for the Vietnamese client. He is not a registered professional hunter, and did not have a permit to hunt the rhino. In April, 2013, sixty-six rhino horns worth almost $3 million USD were stolen from the farm. Four white rhino were also poached on the property in 2013. On 11 June, 2002, Kimberly Thomen, a 34 year old woman from Sugarland, Texas was mauled by a lion at the Leshoka Thabang Game Lodge. Thomen was stroking the lion at the time of her attack.

2016, October 20: the United States effectively banned the import of lion trophies taken from captive lion populations in South Africa.



2017, January 7: A Chinese citizen was caught by the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM) and Customs for the alleged illegal possession of lion’s claws and teeth. The 44-year-old man was arrested at Maputo International Airport, on his way to Qatar.

2017, January 12: Times Live article reports the poaching of three lions. Heads and paws had been cut off. Farmer (Andre de Lange) had two lions poached the year before. He says insuring a lion costs R100 a month.

2017, January 18: South African National Biodiversity Institute, which is the scientific authority to the Department of Environmental Affairs, announced its recommendation to institute an annual export quota of 800 captive-bred lion skeletons.

2017, January 26: Three lions were found poisoned, the two males lions had been mutilated. The poaching incident took place on Turffontein Farm near Polokwane, but they seemed to have been disturbed because the lioness’s carcass was still pretty much intact.

2017, January 31: White lioness poached and two others survived poisoning on Ingogo Safari Lodge, owned by Walter Slippers. Poison chicken used. Head and paws of lion were cut off. Article states that 6 lions had been poached in Limpopo in January.

2017, February 2: A suspect has been arrested in connection with the killing of a white lion at Ingogo Safaris Game Lodge near Alldays, Limpopo. Three others involved had not been caught yet.

2017, May 28: The head and legs of 2 Bengal tigers were cut off at a game farm outside Roedtan in LP, after being poisoned. The tigers were poached on Johan van Zyl’s farm. Van Zyl’s daughter said the tigers were about two years old. The incident was reported to the Roedtan police. Nobody has been arrested yet.


Information Sources:


BONES OF CONTENTION, An assessment of the South African trade in African Lion Panthera leo bones and other body parts, July 2015 Report by Vivienne Williams, David Newton, Andrew Loveridge and David Macdonald…/6197728e63557024e8392a90…

Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary:

Animal Defenders International:

Johan van Zyl Tiger & Lion Poaching Incident:…/lions-and-tigers-killed-on-……/Hunter-fined-over-rhino-poaching-20……/Thieves-steal-66-rhino-horns-201504……/news/…/2016-09-16/articles/letters…/thieves-break-into-safe-to…/…/game-lodge-begins-probe-into-lion-at……/News/Lion-attack-No-charges-20020612

SAPA Article on Lion Poaching:…/is-the-lio…

Lion Claws & Rhino Horn Seized at Maputo Airport:…/chinese-citizen-arrested-in-…/

Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary Poaching Incident:…/rescued-ex-circus-lions-sent-hom…/

Ingogo Safari Lodge – Walter Slippers Poaching Incident:…/another-captive-white-lion-…/…/update-one-suspect-arrested-alldays…/…/poachers-behead-mutilate-white-lion…

CITES CoP17:…/f…/eng/cop/17/Com_I/E-CoP17-Com-I-29.pdf

Simon Bloch Article on Lion Poaching:…/WARNING-GRAPHIC-IMAGE-Lions-ha…

Times Live Article on Lion Poaching:…/Lion-poaching-a-concern-for-fa…

Panthera statement on South Africa’s proposed quota for lion skeleton exports:…/2017-03/p-pso030117.php

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