Lion bones now smuggled East
Teeth and claws passed off as tiger parts, reducing numbers of both
Two animal rights groups spent a year looking into the lion bone trade.
The EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Tradition presented “The Extinction Report: South Africa’s Lion Bone Trade” to a parliamentary portfolio committee on environmental affairs in August.
The smuggling of lion and tiger bones moves along already existing routes of organised elephant and rhino trafficking syndicates. The same syndicates produce processed lion “cake” and tiger “jellycake” in South Africa from tigers and lions in the South African big cat captive industry.
Kristin Nowell of the International Union for Conservation of Nature says SA’s legal trade stokes Asian demand for lion parts as stand-ins for tiger parts. This fuels a growing illegal trade in teeth and claws of wild lions, further reducing their numbers. Sellers pass off lion teeth and claws as tiger parts.
Michele Pickover, of the EMS Foundation, told the Dispatch captive lion breeders claimed what they were doing was not against the law. “Their fallback is that the government allows it. But that argument doesn’t hold up. Apartheid was legal, but that didn’t make it right,” she said.
The bones are highly sought-after in Asian markets, where they are promoted as a treatment for rheumatism and impotence.
Because of dwindling tiger populations, lion bones are used as a substitute.
Dr Kelly Marnewick, a nature conservation lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology, said the practice was strange, because lion bones were “not the real thing”.
“It’s like buying a fake Gucci bag as opposed to the real thing,” she said.
What is interesting is that the wildlife trade monitoring network says no legal trade in lion body parts has been reported in Vietnam, Lao PDR, China or Thailand.
However, these countries show illegal cross-border trade. This presents the potential scenario of lion parts being imported legally into the region, but then re-exported illegally to neighbouring countries.
“It appears that trade takes place through existing networks or is arranged via social media, making it very difficult to monitor.”
EMS said: “South Africa’s intimate involvement with Southeast Asia’s big cat trade means it cannot be separated from the illegal market for tiger (and other big cat) body parts. It is in fact stimulating it and obstructing international efforts to stop the tiger trade.”..