Posters at the OR Tambo International Airport depicting President Jacob Zuma overseeing a lioness about to be executed with a handgun. They were removed by the Airports Company SA (Acsa) on Saturday.

An international campaigning website plans to hire a South African lawyer after the Airports Company SA (Acsa) called for its posters to be removed from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport’s arrivals terminal on Saturday.

The posters, created by Avaaz – a global civic organisation that campaigns for various issues, including animal rights – depicted President Jacob Zuma’s face above the head of a lioness who is about to be executed with a handgun.

Avaaz said the posters aimed to take a stand against the trade in lion bones for bogus sex potions.

They included the tagline: “Our lions are being slaughtered to make bogus sex potions for Asia. Will President Zuma save them? Urge him to stop the deadly lion bone trade now.”

Emma Ruby-Sachs, an Avaaz co-ordinator from Canada, said the organisation would hire a South African lawyer to take the matter to court. “We will not tolerate this conduct. How can more than 700 000 people’s voices just be quietened?”

The organisation said it “had a hunch” that the decision to remove the posters was because of political interference.

Acsa spokesman Solomon Makgale said the company was made aware of the “potentially controversial” campaign last week and that it was placed by Primedia on behalf of Avaaz.

“Acsa has a contractual relationship with Primedia in which Primedia solicits advertising from clients to place at airports,” he said.

“In line with the agreement, Acsa exercised its right as the owner of the advertising platform and removed the material while assessing its suitability for display at the airport.”

On its website, Avaaz said hundreds of lions were “being slaughtered to make bogus sex potions for men”.

It said this slaughter was driven by “a global ban on tiger bone sales [which] has traders hunting a new prize – the majestic lions”.

It added: “Lions are farmed under appalling conditions in South Africa for ‘canned hunting’, where rich tourists pay thousands to shoot them through fences.

“Now experts say lion bones from these killing farms are being exported to phoney medicine-makers in Asia.

“Trade is exploding and experts fear that as prices rise, even wild lions – with only 20 000 left in Africa – will come under poaching attack.”