A lion and lioness.
SOUTH Africa’s controversial lion bone trade is due to come under the spotlight soon when the emotional topic is debated in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

While the National SPCA is against this trade, farmers who breed lions in captivity said a ban on trading would kill their industry and income.

They say the notion that the international trade in lion bones can have a negative impact on the survival of lions as a species in the wild is a myth and fuelled by emotion which is not supported by the true facts.

This is according to the South African Predator Association, which represents the farmers.

The organisation obtained permission from the court to join the proceedings in which the government’s set annual quota of 1 500 lion skeletons for export, will be attacked by the SPCA.

The organisation will ask the court to interdict Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, from issuing any permits for the exportation of any lion bones. This is pending the finalisation of a second application in which it will ask the court to set aside Molewa’s determination of the quota for the exportation of these bones.

The National SPCA wants the exportation of lion bones to be declared unlawful and unconstitutional.

The department last month increased the annual export quota of lion skeletons from 800 to 1500. South Africa is the largest exporter of lion bones to mainly Vietnam, China and Thailand. The bones are mainly used for fake tiger bone wine, believed to be a dubious health drink.

A report on South Africa’s lion bone trade has called for the end of the trade and said this is benefiting only a few people, mainly linked to canned hunting and who are farming lions to export their bones.

But Andre Mentz, a captive lion breeder, in an affidavit submitted to court last week for the predator association to be allowed to join the proceedings, said they are in fact helping to conserve these big cats.

“Our activities cause no prejudice to lions in the wild, we in fact contribute to their survival The captive lion-breeding industry and the legal international trade in bones derived from these lions will not put the lions in the wild at risk,” he stated.

He said the argument by the National SPCA that this trade would impact on the survival of wild lions was a myth and driven by emotion, which was not supported by the facts.

Mentz said it could not be disputed that the demand for lion trophies and products would not disappear if the SPCA succeeded in its application. The demand for lion bones would only increase if the court placed a ban on it.

It would also lead to an increase in unlawful poaching, because someone would supply the markets with these products, he said.

Mentz said there was a huge demand for these bones from eastern countries. “For thousands of years people have used tiger bones in those countries for a variety of products, such as tiger bone wine which is used to cure conditions such as arthritis and sexual disorders.”

He said there were no longer enough tigers left in the world to meet this demand and the focus had now shifted to the lions in South Africa to meet the demand.

Mentz said to be able to export these bones, one must first obtain a permit and this process was highly regulated. “It will have dire financial consequences for lion breeders if we are no longer allowed to trade in lion bones and we will have to cease our commercial activities... It will cause job losses and the lions bred in captivity will have to be culled," he said.