Johannesburg – The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is poised to officially announce a government-approved annual export quota of 800 lion bone skeletons.

This, despite worldwide revulsion and opposition to South Africa’s captive lion breeding and canned hunting programmes.

The latest decision flies in the face of global opinion, with a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and conservationists opposed to the trade in lion bones voicing their disapproval.

News24, in communication with several stakeholders on Monday, confirmed Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa had already signed off on the export quota, which was supposedly still under scientific scrutiny.

Ian Michler, South Africa’s leading campaigner against captive lion hunting, and who featured in the documentary film Blood Lions, said: “Given the trade-offs and outcomes of the Cites

COP17 conference at Sandton last October, and given our knowledge and experience with the government with the way they conduct their environmental policies, the decision was not unexpected.
“What we know about this government and its attitude towards trade in wildlife, it was just a case of when it was going to happen, not whether it would happen. In the big picture, this will be used by everyone involved in lion conservation as an example for the next Cites conference,” he said.However, what is not clear at this stage is what criteria were used to reach this figure, or what considerations were given to the public’s opposition to the quota.

When sent a media enquiry, department spokesperson Albi Modise said he would need until Wednesday to provide answers to the “in-depth” requests.

Wellbeing of species

A number of NGOs have already called out the DEA’s “complete disregard for glaringly obvious facts”.

Smaragda Louw and Michelè Pickover of Ban Animal Trading (BAT) and the EMS Foundation maintain that Cites requires member states to adequately determine whether such conduct will detrimentally impact the wellbeing of the species.

In written submissions to the department, they argued:

“Notwithstanding our inherent moral objections to the practice of canned lion hunting and the trade in predator bones, it is submitted that there are no adequate measures in place in order to determine the viability and sustainability of this quota or provide for the legislative enforcement thereof.

“No details had been made available to the public, and we submit that the DEA has not been transparent as to the manner in which it had obtained the quota of 800 captive bred lion skeletons, based on its apparent, cursory Non-Detrimental Finding.”

Researched data shows the lion bone trade is targeted particularly by a network of underground “snake-oil” traders in South East Asia – namely Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and China.

Over the past 21 years, the numbers of wild lions have almost halved as demand for their bones for Chinese medicine has soared.

Lions have replaced tigers as the prime source of big cat body parts, which are said to have magical properties, and are used in South East Asian quackery health tonics and as superstition charms.

Increased demand for wild lion parts

While international conservation and law enforcement efforts have made tiger bone increasingly scarce, “canned” hunting and poaching has seen the demand and supply of lion trophies, skins and other derivatives soar.”To us, it is quite clear that promoting a trade in the sale and export of body parts fans the demand, so we are expecting an increase in demand to take place,” Michler said.

“If we go back to the Cites database, there is no record of trade in lion bones prior to the 2008/9 period. Blood Lions clearly shows that.”

Dr Paul Funston, senior director of wild cat conservation group Panthera’s Lion Program, said the proposed quota had “absolutely no grounding” in science.

“It is irresponsible to establish [a] policy that could further imperil wild lions – already in precipitous decline throughout much of Africa – when the facts are clear; South Africa’s lion breeding industry makes absolutely no positive contribution to conserving lions and, indeed, further imperils them,” Funston says.

He warned that the legalisation of a trade in lion bones would stimulate the market and endanger both captive and wild lion populations.

“There is significant evidence that South Africa’s legal trade in captive-bred lion trophies is accelerating the slaughter of wild lions for their parts in neighbouring countries and is, in fact, increasing demand for wild lion parts in Asia – a market that did not exist before South Africa started exporting lion bones in 2007.”