David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s position on the trade of lion parts, captive breeding farms and canned hunting

In just 20 years, African lion populations have fallen by 43% with only 20,000 left in the wild. Now extinct in 24 of their former range states, we urgently need to address the threats facing this iconic species

The rapid growth of human populations coupled with agricultural and settlement expansion has led to declining wildlife habitats and increasing human-wildlife conflict around the world. Lion populations are becoming increasingly isolated and threatened as a result of a change in land use due to human pressure, genetic distribution and their ability to healthily procreate. However, a newer and far more urgent concern facing the species is the rapid growth of lion poaching to fuel the consumptive trade in lion bones from Asia.

Used as a substitute for tiger bones, lion parts and derivatives are perceived to hold medicinal and curative values and are used in traditional Chinese medicines and as trinkets. Although lion poaching is still illegal in South Africa, the government allows an export quota for lion skeletons from captive breeding facilities to fuel demand.  The quota was recently raised to 1,500 animals per annum driving populations ever closer to extinction.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) actively campaigns for:

  • A total ban on the international trade in lion parts and derivatives
  • The closure of all lion breeding farms and canned hunting facilities

DSWF actively promotes:

  • Law enforcement and park protection initiatives to protect wild lion populations
  • Ground based research into genetic population distribution
  • Human wildlife mitigation initiatives.

What are lion parts used for?

Lions are being targeted as a suitable substitute for tiger parts.  Humans have poached tigers to the brink of extinction for tiger parts and derivatives for traditional Chinese medicines.  Bones are also used in jewellery and other trinkets.  Exploited largely due to the belief that their body parts can cure disease and replenish the body’s essential energy; tigers have lost 93% of their historic range.  As few as 3,500 remain in the wild.  We need to reduce the demand in lion body parts, or lion populations could follow this same trajectory.

Do breeding farms reduce incentives to poaching wild tigers?

Breeding farms DO NOT reduce incentives to poach.  It is a notion which DSWF fiercely refutes. 

The notion that breeding farms reduce incentives to poach is a myth that needs to be refuted. Not only does the legal trade condone the consumptive use of lion parts, but it stimulates the demand. As seen with tiger breeding facilities in China, increased availability leads to increased demand, a demand that cannot be met and that must be propped up by the illegal poaching of wild lions.

What is canned hunting?

’Canned hunting’ is the hunting of wild animals in confined areas from which they cannot escape. Lion cubs, born in captivity are taken from their mothers within days of birth.  Placed in petting zoos, they are unknowingly ‘tamed’ by volunteers who help to raise them, and by tourists.  Once they are too large to be easily handled, the animals are released into caged compounds.  Reared by people, they have minimal fear of human interaction, and consequently they are easy prey for hunters who pay high prices for the ‘sport’.

In South Africa, there are at least 200 captive breeding farms nurturing over 6,000 animals destined for this gruesome fate.

What are the main threats that captive breeding farms pose to wild lions?

Captive breeding farms offer a perfect guise for illegally poached wild lions to be laundered into a legal market and makes differentiating their source almost impossible. With a total ban, the issue would simply be a law enforcement issue. We have a responsibility to remember that we are discussing an ‘endangered species’ and that any trade which stimulates demand for the product puts the species at risk.

Captive breeding farms also encourage the belief that lion parts and derivatives hold medicinal value and perpetuate the trade. It’s crucial that instead the belief is endorsed that tigers are not to be bred for human consumption or trophies and should remain free and in the wild in their natural habitat.

How do lion bones end up in Asia?

Lion body parts and their derivatives are used as a substitute for tiger parts.  There are less than 3,800 tigers left in the wild. Their rapid decline, caused by habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and illegal wildlife trade has led to lions being considered a suitable replacement.  Lion bones are sought for their perceived medicinal and curative properties.  As South Africa has a legal export quota of 1,500 lion skeletons per annum from captive breeding, this facilitates the permissible sale of lion bone to Asia. This stimulates lion poaching across Africa, creating profitable businesses for illegal wildlife trade syndicates.  It is estimated that the illegal trade in lion bones is worth US$19 billion.

What is the historic range of lions?

African lion populations have fallen by 43% in just 20 years.  There are only 20,000 left in the wild.    The International Union for Conservation (IUCN), respected as the global authority of the status of the natural world, places Lions on its ‘Red List’, classifying the species as vulnerable. The assessment in 2014 indicates that lions currently exist in 25 countries, but are already extinct in 26 countries, and fears they are also extinct in a further 7 countries.

For more information on the historic range of lions, please visit:  IUCN Red List Lions