South Africa recently proposed to legalize the trade in captive-bred lion carcasses. The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) announced that it plans to allow up to 800 lion skeletons per year to be exported. Conservation groups, such as Panthera, immediately decried the move.
The DEA claims that allowing lion bones to be traded legally will decrease hunting pressures on wild lions. If the body parts of lions killed in canned hunting operations are sold, so the thinking goes, then South Africa will be able to regulate the trade. But Panthera’s scientists are not convinced. As they point out, the DEA’s assertions have no grounding in science. In fact, permitting the trade of captive-bred lion bones might lead to an increase in lion poaching.
According to Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM), the body parts of certain animals have special properties. Consuming tiger parts, for example, is believed to cure everything from epilepsy to rheumatism (Goodrich et al., 2015; Panthera, 2015d). Since tigers have been decimated by this trade, poachers are now setting their sights on other big cats – such as jaguars and lions.
Prior to 2007, lion parts were rarely harvested for use in TAM. But in that year South Africa legalized canned hunting, and the demand for lion products skyrocketed. According to this article by Eva Hershaw (2017), the amount of lion skeletons being exported increased by a factor of six. The trade in captive lion parts seems to be fueling wild lion poaching as well. A growing number of wild lion carcasses are turning up with body parts removed, suggesting that they are being harvested for the TAM trade (Hershaw, 2017; Panthera, 2017b).
Panthera and other conservationists are worried that allowing 800 captive-bred lion skeletons to be exported will strengthen the demand for lion parts. This would be disastrous, because lion numbers are already declining rapidly. Panthera advocates for shutting down the canned hunting industry, because it is cruel and does not contribute to wild lion conservation.