Johannesburg - South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs plans to establish an annual quota for the export of skeletons from farm-bred lions and won’t authorize shipments until one has been put in place.
An export permit will only be granted when a scientific authority has advised that it won’t be detrimental to the survival of the species, Albi Modise, a spokesman for the department, said on Tuesday in response to questions, adding that the proposal is for 800 skeletons to be exported. He said the export quota for captive lions may help prevent the poaching of wild lions as demand surges following initiatives from countries including India and Russia to better protect tigers.
“Well-regulated trade will enable the department to monitor a number of issues, including the possible impact on the wild populations,” Modise said. The quota proposal will be sent to the United Nations’ Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
There are 20 000 lions left in Africa, 43 percent less than two decades ago, and only six countries host populations with more than 1,000 animals, Panthera, WildAid and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit said in a report last year. Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe together are home to almost a third of the continent’s lions while the species is extinct in at least 15 African countries. Lion bones, which can substitute for tiger bones, are used in East Asian countries including China as medicinal remedies said to treat a wide range of ailments from insomnia to osteoporosis.
““Four Paws opposes the Department of Environmental Affairs’ recommendation,” Fiona Miles, country director of conservation group Four Paws South Africa, said. There should be a “total suspension of trade in captive lions and their bones” and an end to captive-lion breeding in order to protect the species, she said.
African lions are classified as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. A WildCRU report estimated that South Africa has more than 9,000 lions with about one third of them free-roaming in reserves and the rest kept captive on farms. In total, 1 160 lion skeletons were legally exported from South Africa between 2008 and 2011 after regulations on the hunting of captive bred lions was tightened, according to the joint report by lion advocacy organizations Panthera, WildAid and WildCRU.
The quota should be higher than 800 skeletons and the trade poses no threat to wild lions and in fact diminishes it, Carla van der Vyver, the CEO of the South African Predator Association, which represents lion farmers, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
“If there is a regulated, consistent supply at a reasonable price, it reduces the likelihood of illegal traders getting the opportunity to supply the market at prices that make illegal trade worthwhile,” she said.
As many as 8 000 lions and other big cats are kept on 200 or more breeding farms, according to wildlife charity Born Free Foundation. Lion skeletons can sell for more than $2 000 each with consumers in Asia paying “far higher” prices than that, according to the organisation.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute will start a three-year study to monitor lion bone trade in South Africa and investigate how the trade in bones from captive lions using a quota system affects wild lion populations, Modise said. The public has until Feb. 2 to comment and a final quota will be sent to CITES in March, he said.
“South Africa’s commercial lion breeding industry is unspeakably cynical and cruel, poses a threat to wild lions and other big cats, and needs to be shut down,” said Will Travers, foundation president of the Born Free Foundation, which campaigns for the survival of the predators. “The trade will further stimulate demand in Asia for lion bones and perpetuate the demand for tiger-bone tonics which often contain lion bone. This will, in turn, put already beleaguered wild tigers, as well as lions, at greater risk from poachers seeking a quick profit.