“A Roaring Trade?”

Stephen Wiggins Article, Studies 7 Comments

Banner image courtesy of Mark Boulton, Elsa Trust and Elsamere

Back in August 2017, IWB and the Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) questioned if the Republic of South Africa, Department: Environmental Affairs (DEA) could provide conclusive science that showed its “800 skeletons” lion bone trade quota does not pose a continent wide threat to wild lions in their home ranges (and wild tiger species in Asia), by perpetuating the demand for these species for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

In a research study published on 24 October 2017 – “A roaring trade? The legal trade in Panthera leo bones from Africa to East-Southeast Asiathe researchers have investigated the formation and the murky (criminal syndicate ridden) history of the lion bone trade’s growth, concluding:

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. And, of particular concern are reports of Asian nationals enquiring about lion bones in Eastern and Southern African lion range states, and the evidence of at least one consignment exported from Uganda to Laos in 2016, because this implies deliberate bioprospecting and a more organised and less opportunistic approach to sourcing and acquiring wild lion body parts and bones

“………….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.”

Vivienne L. Williams1, Andrew J. Loveridge2, David J. Newton1,3, David W. Macdonald2

1 School of Animal, Plant & Environmental Sciences; University of the Witwatersrand, Wits, South Africa,

2 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, The Recananti-Kaplan Centre, Tubney House, Tubney, Oxon, United Kingdom,

3 TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, c/o IUCN ESARO, Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa

So, these researchers have clearly identified the growing risk to Panthera leo (African lion) as a species, continent wide stemming from the trade in lion bones. The question is, where is the DEA’s proof that this risk was acknowledged before its “800 skeletons” quota was set?

In addition, this is not a recently emerging risk, the South African lion bone trade started in 2008 as a by-product of South Africa’s ‘canned’ lion killing business:

allegedly to supply the substitute `tiger bone’ market….when the first CITES permits were issued.”

“no less than 70 tonnes [of lion bones/skeletons] have been shipped to East-Southeast Asia [from Africa] since 2008….64% in the last three years from 2014……”

South Africa has issued permits to export 99% of all lion skeletons listed on the CITES Trade Database up to the end of 2015

The report’s authors have identified “the concerns that the legalised sale of lion bones, supplied by captive-bred lions, from South Africa is:

(i) impeding efforts to curb the tiger trade because access to lion parts might be perpetuating and/or expanding the market for large felid bones, and thereby rekindling efforts to poach tigers as the demand is supplied, and

(ii) abetting the illegal acquisition and trade in lion bones and derivatives across Africa (seemingly evinced through the rise in incidences of lion poaching and trafficking).”

The authors suggest the principal questions that still remain unanswered are:

(i) to what extent is lion poaching that is directly attributable to the Asian and broader pan-African domestic trades occurring in South Africa and other African countries;

(ii) what are suppliers and importers doing with the lion bones,

(iii) are bones being processed into products prior to export to evade detection and circumvent the mandatory permit regulations (and hence to what extent), and

(iv) are lion bones that are processed and sold to Asian consumers being marketed as lion or tiger?

Accordingly, these questions merit further scrutiny, as the body of evidence is limited and/or has not been accessed yet.

As ever, we await the DEA’s scientific based response to explain the validity behind the “800 skeletons” lion bone trade quota.

UPDATE, 27 October 2017: 

The same authors have issued another relevant study, 26 October 2017 – “Questionnaire survey of the pan-African trade in lion body parts:”

This survey, and increased incident reports since mid-2015 of lion poisoning and poaching in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and sporadic poaching events in Uganda and Tanzania, are signalling an escalating trend in the trade of lion products that is an increasing threat to some national populations. The evidence is sufficient to make more detailed investigation of this trade a conservation priority.”


Comments 7

  1. S. Schroeder

    Disgusting! We must end the lion bone trade. It is a complex and difficult issue to address, but lion farming cannot be helpful, it will only drive up the demand.

    1. Post
      Stephen Wiggins

      Thank you for the comment – Agreed!

      There would not be a lion bone trade risking wild species, if the ‘captive’/’canned’ lion breeding industry had not advocated for such trade as an additional income stream in 2008 – allegedly to supply trophy hunted ‘canned’ lion skeletons as a substitute for tiger bones in TCM. But of course, tigers are increasingly still being farmed to supply TCM demands, so the lion bone trade is just a supplementary trade and has not substituted, but stimulated demand as you say – threatening wild lion, tiger, leopard and other big cat sources, whilst perpetuating inhumane captive breeding of big cats.

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