South Africa’s canned lion hunting industry cashes in on global trade in lion bones

By on January 27, 2017 with 9 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

More than a year ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reacting to a legal petition from The HSUS, HSI, and other animal welfare and conservation groups, announced that the United States was placing African lions on the list of threatened and endangered species. One consequence of enhanced U.S. protections for lions was that American trophy hunters would have a much harder time importing the heads and hides of lions they shot in Africa. They’d have to prove that killing lions enhanced the protection of the species – a tall order given that human-caused killing has been decimating lions.

South Africa, it turns out, is the center of the lion hunting industry. Trophy hunters kill a small number of wild lions there, but they kill hundreds of lions in captive hunts, in which lions bred for killing are shot within fenced enclosures from whose confines they cannot escape. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that trophy hunting of captive lions does not contribute to conservation in any way, and has not allowed any such imports since extending federal protections to the species.

It isn’t a small, sidelight business; there are nearly 8,000 captive lions living behind fences throughout South Africa. These lions are bred for cub petting and lion walks (where paying customers get to interact with the lions), and after some time, they are offered up for shooting for trophies in a guaranteed kill arrangement. American trophy hunters do two-thirds of all trophy killing of the captive lions, so the decision to not allow captive lion trophy imports has had a devastating impact on this sordid industry in South Africa.

Meanwhile, some other nations, including France and the Netherlands, took similar action to forbid imports, augmenting the effect of the U.S. policy.

Now, the South African lion breeders and hunters, grappling with the loss of their cash-cow enterprise of offering up lions for shooting by wealthy foreign hunters, has come up with an alternative plan – one that is perhaps equally as appalling and destructive as trophy hunting of captive big cats. Specifically, they have cooked up a plan to kill captive lions and then sell off their bones in international trade. This week, the South African government essentially blessed the idea of exporting as many as 800 captive-bred lion skeletons to some nations throughout the world (the lion parts cannot come into the United States, for the same reason that the heads and hides are restricted).

The trade in lion parts is not a new concern for many African nations. At the September meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg, nine lion range states proposed to increase protection of the African lion under CITES, which would have prohibited all international commercial trade in lion parts. Their proposal identified trade in lion bones as one of the major threats to wild lion populations, as these products are in high demand in Asia where they are powdered and used in tonics such as “tiger wine,” which consumers mistakenly believe cures pain and disease, or works as an aphrodisiac. Just last year two lions were poached in Limpopo National Park, Mozambique, near the border with Kruger National Park, with their bones completely removed, likely for export to Asia.

But the South African government actively opposed the proposal at CITES and led the way in fending it off. In the wake of that blocking maneuver, the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) held a meeting last week with a range of stakeholders to discuss adoption of a quota on the exports of parts from captive-bred lions.

Trading in lion parts is not much different from the ivory trade or rhino horn trade. The presence of a legal trade will drive more and more poaching of wild lions. It goes without saying that bones of captive-bred lions are absolutely indistinguishable from the bones of lions in the wild, which offers a perfect opportunity for wildlife criminals to launder wild bones as captive and creates an implementation nightmare for law enforcement.

South Africa has opened a brief public comment period to collect input on this recommended quota. South Africa’s reputation as a tourist destination has been damaged by the revelations about its captive trophy hunting industry. Now, it should face the same level of scrutiny for this mass killing and bone harvesting program.

It’s time for the world to roar and help stop this abuse of lions from occurring in the months ahead. We’re certainly raising our voices, and we hope you will, too.

End export of captive-bred lion parts from South Africa»

Humane Society International, Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Donna Severson says:

    How can an average citizen contact South Africa to voice our humane opinion on this?

    • JJ Lockhart says:

      Public invited to make written submissions on proposed lion export quota to the department in line with CITES requirements
      25 January 2017

      The Department of Environmental Affairs has emphasised that no exports of lion bones will be authorised in 2017 until the export quota for the trade in these specimens has been established and communicated to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat.
      The Department has made the assurance following a CITES stakeholder feedback session in Pretoria on 18 January 2017, where the public raised concerns about how the Department will determine the quota of lion bones permitted to be exported from South Africa, and how it will be managed.
      The Department, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the provincial conservation departments shared information relating to the proposed export quota for lion bones; information used to determine the quota; management interventions to monitor the trade; and the research to be conducted to inform future decisions relating to trade in lion bones with stakeholders, including the South African Predator Breeders Association, lion bone traders, hunting organisations, lion bone traders, non-governmental organisations, private individuals and the media.
      The South African population of Panthera leo (African lion) is included in Appendix II of CITES. In terms of Article IV of the Convention, an export permit shall only be granted for an Appendix II species when a Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species.
      During the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Johannesburg in 2016, the Parties agreed that there should be a zero quota on the export of bones derived from wild lion specimens and that South Africa would establish a quota for bones derived from captive breeding facilities in South Africa. South Africa agreed to this annotation, as a risk-averse intervention. This is considered a risk-averse intervention because of concerns relating to the shift in lion and tiger bone trade observed and recorded in a study commissioned by TRAFFIC.
      It was noted that when the trade in tiger bone was banned; the trade shifted and bones were sourced from South Africa, available as a by-product of the hunting of captive bred lions. One of the main concerns is that lion bones may be illegally sourced from wild lion populations if the trade in the bones originating from captive bred lions is prohibited. A well-regulated trade will enable the Department to monitor a number of issues relating to the trade, including the possible impact on the wild populations.
      The CITES listing for lion was amended during the COP 17 to include the following annotation:
      “For Panthera leo (African populations): a zero annual export quota is established for specimens of bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth removed from the wild and traded for commercial purposes. Annual export quotas for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in South Africa, will be established and communicated annually to the CITES Secretariat.”

      This annotation requires that South Africa, through the National CITES Management Authority, in consultation with the Scientific Authority, establish a national export quota to be communicated to the CITES Secretariat.
      Based on an assessment of previous year’s trade data (including trade in bones and hunting trophies) a quota of 800 skeletons were proposed. The following procedure was also proposed for the management of the 800 skeletons that will be exported from South Africa in 2017:
      The quota will be managed at a national level
      International trade will be restricted to trade in skeletons only (not individual pieces, bone pieces, etc)
      Upon receipt of an application from a captive breeding operation (CBO)/hunting farm, the province will confirm with DEA whether a quota is available
      The province will evaluate the application and determines whether the relevant permit can be issued
      Skeletons will be packed separately at source (CBO/hunting farm), weighed, tagged and a DNA sample will be taken
      Quota numbers will be indicated on all permits (e.g. killing/ hunting/ selling/ buying/ transporting/ exporting)
      Consignment to be inspected (and weighed) and permit endorsed at port of exit; random DNA samples will be collected.
      The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) will also initiate a study to monitor the lion bone trade in South Africa. The study will aim to increase the understanding of the lion bone trade in South Africa and the captive lion breeding industry, and will investigate how the trade in captive produced lion bone under a quota system affects wild lion populations.
      It will also strengthen the evidence base for the annual review of the quota in order to ensure it is sustainable and not detrimental to wild populations. The study will be a 3-year project with annual reviews, which aims to inform the Scientific Authority on a sustainable annual quota.
      The public are invited to submit written comments to the department on or before 2 February 2017 for consideration by the CITES Management Authority and Scientific Authority before the final quota is communicated to CITES Secretariat in March 2017.
      Submissions can be sent to:

      Mr Mpho Tjiane
      Tel: +27 12 399 9596
      E- mail
      For media inquiries contact:

      Albi Modise
      Cell: +27 83 490 2871

  2. Nancy Zimerowski says:

    Just when some progress is being made with the U.S. banning the import of canned lion hunting trophies, now this. A gruesome fate for these lions, and a very sad day. When will it ever end?

  3. Evelyn Pendall says:

    Africa should have restrictions on Animal export for all the WRONG reasons, there should be laws set against exploitatives on animals.

  4. Amir Niknam says:

    Please do not allow the destruction and the extinction of lions by allowing the sale of their body parts It is well known that lion bones and tiger bones have absolutely no medicinal qualities and the idea is a complete fraud. Be assured that this would be a major concern for tourism Thank you very much in advance for your valuable time and attention to this very important matter

  5. Frances C. says:

    I have a Precious Corgi. He has been my best friend for 11 years. Through Hell and High Waters. I have encountered the worst treatment ever with Chemical Warfare against my animal and myself.

    There are several Lawsuits that have never addressed this treatment in fullness with substansive law. These are old MK Ultra programming devices of men from the 60’s.

    There have been several news stories done on chemical abuse to animals.
    As it appears to be like an acid; this is from radiation drawing from atmospheric conditions.There is some laws goverend by Federal law.
    What are they? I believed they had been outlawed!

  6. Michelle Fuller says:

    Henriette. I want to be one of the people that roar against this new carnage of our wildlife. Would a petition do any good? What can I do to help stop this. Michelle

  7. Martha Taylor says:

    Please stop this barbaric practice from happening. They do not deserve to be treated this way.

  8. AVIS HOLT says:

    If the US is going to have any substantial say in this matter, we first have to convince President Trump that it is NOT OK for his sons to hunt and kill exotic animals and display their “kills” with smiling faces, to the public. How do we go about doing that?

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