In the first full research report of its kind, the trophy hunting industry in South Africa has been exposed as the main source of Asia’s rapidly expanding lion bone trade. The implications are that thousands of lions are being raised in South Africa to shot in cages, stoking a market for lion bone medicine that ultimately threatens the last 2,300 wild lions in the country.
African range lions have declined alarmingly over the last several decades due to rampant poaching, trophy hunting and habitat loss.
However, the report, which is jointly compiled by WildCru, the same Oxford University Research Unit studying Cecil the Lion before he was shot, and Traffic, an international wildlife monitoring trade network administered by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), has noted that things could be getting worse for lions.
Highly prized ... the growing market for lion bones offers breeders a way of boosting their earnings. Photograph: Alamy
In 2008 Asian traders began taking an interest in Africa’s lions when the decline in tigers became acute. Tiger wine, made using powdered bones, is a much sought-after elixir in Asia. It allegedly cures a variety of ills and increases strength and wellbeing. With the demise of tigers, lion bones are now filling the gap with a sharp increase in lion products in the markets of Vietnam, China and especially Laos.
The South African Department of Environment (DEA) has raised concerns that the demand for lion bones could potentially threaten South Africa’s 2,300 wild lions.
South Africa, though, finds itself in a unique situation. Apart from the population of wild lions found mainly in the National Parks and smaller private reserves, there are also around 174 captive lion breeding facilities in the country where, at any given time, 7,000 lions are in breeding facilities exclusively used for trophy hunting.
Lion Bones are a Boost to Trophy Hunting Sales
A lion breeder in South Africa can get paid anywhere from U.S. $5,000 to $25,000 per captive-bred lion shot, but now, according to statistics released by the DEA, a breeder can boost his earnings by selling a lion skeleton, which is worth another $ 1,260 to $ 1,560 per set without skulls, and up to $ 1,890 to $ 2,100) with skulls (depending on the size of the skeleton).
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 $20,000.
According to the South African Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) on lions not only is the practice of selling lion bones legal but it is fully endorsed by government, which views lion bones as economically viable and actively “promotes sustainable legal trade in lions and lion products” using a CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) regulated permit system. READ MORE
The Blood Lions story is a compelling call to action to have these practices stopped.