More than 6‚000 lion skeletons have been exported from South Africa to south-east Asia in the last decade.
The bones come mainly from so-called “canned” lions — animals bred in captivity and shot by paying hunters — according to research led by a Wits University academic.
Canned Hunting was introduced to protect endangered species, fund wildlife conservation and decrease the need for poaching. The idea is that lions are bred in captivity to be used for hunts, where hunters from all over the world pay upwards of $30,000 for the opportunity to kill the king of the jungle.
Canned hunting occurs across all species, but there is noticeably more controversy with the killing of lion. The lions used in canned hunts are often hand raised by humans, used in lion petting zoos until maturity, then brought to these farms to be hunted in an enclosed area. Hunters then often leave the meat and skeleton of the animal, taking the hide as their souvenir.
More than half of the lion skeletons‚ skulls‚ claws and teeth exported by South Africa go to Laos‚ with the rest going to Vietnam and Thailand‚ Vivienne Williams of Wits University in South Africa said.
The pace of exports accelerated ahead of a Convention in the Trade of Endangered Species change restricting trade to bones from captive animals from 2017.
Writing in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE‚ Williams — from the School of Animal‚ Plant & Environmental Sciences at Wits — warns that the new curb could fuel poaching. Should the bones not be able to be purchased through the farms and the government legally, poachers will be encouraged to over-hunt lion to meet the demand.
“Of particular concern are reports of Asian nationals enquiring about lion bones in eastern and southern Africa‚ and the evidence of at least one consignment exported from Uganda to Laos in 2016‚” Williams said.
“This implies deliberate bio-prospecting and a more organised and less opportunistic approach to sourcing and acquiring wild lion body parts and bones.”
With the worldwide tiger population at an endangered 3,000 and lion population on the rise, their bones have replaced tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicine‚ including “bone-strengthening” wine‚ according to Williams and colleagues from Wits and Oxford University in the UK.
They estimated that 6‚058 skeletons weighing at least 70 tons had been exported since 2008‚ based on the Cites trade database‚ Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa data and figures from the freight-forwarding company that handles transport through OR Tambo International Airport‚ in Johannesburg‚ for South Africa’s six bone traders.
Williams said exports surged in the last quarter of 2016‚ probably because traders were buying as many skeletons as possible in anticipation of last year’s crackdown.
“Another probable reason for the 2016 increase … was the US’s decision to ban their hunters from importing captive-origin lion trophies.”
Half of South Africa’s foreign hunters come from the US.
“While the international market for South African lion hunts has declined markedly‚ the domestic market has allegedly expanded (partly due to hunts being sold at reduced rates); however‚ South African hunters tend not to take the skulls as trophies‚ and so complete skeletons from trophy-hunted lions are entering the supply chain more frequently.”