Cat out of the bag: Trophy hunting fuels Asian lion bone trade

2015-08-13 14:34


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Cape Town - In the first full research report of its kind, the trophy hunting industry in South Africa has been exposed as the main source of the lion bone trade.

With the demise of tigers, lion bones are now filling the gap with a sharp increase in lion products showing up in Asia.

South Africa has about 7 000 lions bred in enclosed facilities for trophy hunting.
A breeder can get paid anywhere from R62 000 to R312 000 per captive-bred lion shot, but he can also boost his earnings by selling a lion skeleton, which is worth another R15 000 to R25 000 per set.

Skeletons are sold to Chinese dealers in Durban or Johannesburg, then shipped to Asia where the product, once boiled down and bottled, could fetch a market value exceeding R250 000.
The trade is endorsed by government, which views lion bones as economically viable and actively “promotes sustainable legal trade in lions and lion products”.

However, the report cautions “there are flaws in the regulatory systems that have created opportunities to exploit weaknesses in the legislation”.

Permits to hunt lions in South Africa are issued to professional hunters who are obliged to record all completed hunts in a register.

However, according to the report, when one compares the number of lions hunted (indicated by the hunting register) with the number of trophies exported (indicated by Cites permits) between 2004 and 2010, there is a large discrepancy of 1 138 more trophies exported than lions legally hunted.


These are indications of a parallel illegal trade. Allegedly farmers have been motivated to exhume carcasses that were discarded after past trophy hunts and captive mortalities and sell them illegally.

Furthermore, lion trophies were exported to Laos for the first time in 2009, despite no records of Laotian clients having hunted lions in South Africa. Since 2010, the number of permits issued to export lion trophies to Laos has increased exponentially and currently dominate the export market for this commodity to the region.

Dr Pieter Kat a trustee with LionAid, a UK charity working globally to save lions, warns that the South African government’s desire to facilitate trade in lion bones will be to the detriment of wild lions.

He maintains that “by stimulating an Asian market for lion products, increased demand will affect lions across the continent as they now have value for poachers and illegal traders.”

Adam Welz of WildAid, a global organisation that works to reduce consumption, compares the lion bone trade with the tiger bone trade. “Breeding thousands of tigers in captivity has not halted the decline of wild tigers,” Welz maintains, “in fact it's created a supply of tiger parts to an increasingly visible market which has stimulated consumer demand for products like tiger bone wine”.

The report backs these sentiments noting that the illegal wild lion trade “seems to have escalated since 2008.”

This research, therefore, has flagged a potential problem that there may be an “incentive to breed lions solely for the lion bone trade.” The trophy hunting industry, therefore, has become the primary source for a burgeoning trade that could potentially have a deep impact of Africa’s free-ranging lions.

-This article was distributed by the Conservation Action Trust and is used with their permission.

Read more on:    cites  |  cape town  |  poaching  |  animals  |  conservation

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