Bones of Contention
Author: South African Predator Association    Publication Date: 13 February 2017

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During the recent Conference of the Parties, COP 17, CITES granted South Africa the opportunity to establish an export quota for the bones of captive bred lions. The much-maligned Department of Environmental Affairs immediately set about determining what the extent of this quota should be in a thorough, measured manner. They have yet to furnish a definitive answer. Yet, animal rights activists have responded with a huge measure of hysteria in a number of published articles. They somehow foresee the wholesale slaughter of wild lions to feed the oriental market for lion bones.

The thrust of these articles is that income from hunting captive-bred lions has been throttled by the USFWS ban on the importation of ranch lion trophies to the USA, which has forced the industry to look for other revenue streams, one of which they found in selling lion bones for use in the Traditional Oriental Medicine market and other cultural uses. Somehow, we are led to believe, this is a direct threat to the wild lion populations in South Africa and the bones of wild lions will be camouflaged as those of their captive-bred cousins and will thus be smuggled to Asia.

The truth, so staunchly ignored by many commentators, is that this is not a new industry that has sprung up since the USFWS ban. Lion bones have been exported from South Africa to the Orient for at least a decade. The bones were supplied by the captive-bredlion industry. Instead of letting the bones of a lion bleach away in the Kalahari sun, they are collected, cleaned and transported.  All of this has taken place openly and legally with the necessary permits in place.

As for the idea that by supplying these bones the exporters have created a market, it is safe to assume nobody went to China to run training sessions to teaching them to dissolve lion bones in alcohol and then to swallow it. This market already existed. The captive-bred lion industry did not create the market, they merely supplied it. It is true however, that since the ban, what has been a derivative industry has now become some lion breeders’ alternative source of income.

Although the figure of 800 sets of bones contained in the proposed quota is bandied about, the South African Government has not yet finalized the size of the quota.  The determination of a CITES quota have a direct effect on the legal trade of a species and it is the illegal trade that everybody have to be concerned about.  Every set of bones needs a permit and a source. For every captive bred lion utilized, one permit is issued and for every permit there is but one set of bones that can be exported.

The South African Predator Association applauds the Department of Environmental Affairs under the expert guidance of Minister Edna Molewa in for the thorough way in which they are handling this issue. The South African Predator Association is confident that government will make informed decisions in this regard.


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