Sale of lion skeletons remains thorny issue

When the documentary Blood Lions was released in 2015, people were shocked that the filming of the bred-in-captivity, emaciated lions had taken place on a local farm in Alldays.

What is happening to South African lions now has further shocked the world. The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) recently applied for an urgent interdict in response to the South African government’s illegal setting of annual quotas for the legal export of lion bones – 1 500 lion skeletons to be exact – for the year of 2018 alone.

The Zoutpansberger spoke to Karen Trendler, who is the manager of wildlife trade and trafficking with the NSPCA. “We asked for a review of last year’s quota of 800 skeletons, and while that process was still waiting for an outcome, a statement was issued on 16 July this year when the Minister of Environmental Affairs announced that the lion-bone export quota for 2018, as from 7 June, was set at 1 500 skeletons, with or without skulls. The reasons for skeletons to be listed as with or without skulls is because when lions are hunted for trophies, the heads are usually the trophies, with the rest of the animal being of no use to the hunters. Legally, before issuing such a quota, the department must leave the application open to the public for perusal for a period of 30 days, which did not happen,” said Trendler.

The export of lion bones was not a new practice, said Trendler, but the quantities now in play were sky-high and not in any way sustainable. Breeding lions for their bones as a business enterprise started gaining momentum in 2008, purely because of the continued extinction of tiger species (three species of tiger are now completely extinct). In Asia, tiger bones have been used historically in traditional medicines. With China banning the trade in tiger bones, lion bones became the new ingredient for these potions.

The bones of wild lions are preferred in the making of these concoctions. While CITES is apparently in control of whether or not wild lion bones are being exported legally within the quota system, a loophole exists in that, once all the required tests have been done on skeletons, they are returned to their exporters for packaging. Spot checks could reveal that wild-lion bones have replaced those of lions bred in captivity, but the checks are carried out too randomly to make any difference.

Trendler said that the same people who were buying legal lion bones were buying poached rhino horn, pangolin, and other illegal animals or their parts. They do not care where these come from, and the demand for these things is not decreasing, because of their scarcity. The prices just keep going up, making the trade more appealing to many. She said that lions bred primarily for their bones meant that their care, feeding, and upkeep until their bones were adult-sized and ready for harvesting were of no interest to potential purchasers. The bones of an emaciated, miserable lion that has never been out of a backyard-sized enclosure before being slaughtered are worth no less than a well-fed, free-roaming, king-of-the-jungle type cat.

“There are no regulations for the farming and the slaughter of lions,” said Trendler. She added that appalling cruelty was taking place, with no laws in place to protect lions bred to be slaughtered for their bones. “With cattle or other farming, there are at least laws and regulations, and SPCA officials have something to work with when they enter facilities that breed animals for slaughter or for other reasons. Lions have no protection in this way, and South African-bred tigers are even worse off because they are a non-indigenous species.”

Right now, in South Africa, 3 000 wild lions and approximately 8 000 lions kept in captivity can be found. The Conference of the Parties to CITES 2017 (CoP17) did not raise protection for lions to Appendix 1, which is the level of maximum protection generally awarded to endangered species, and that was requested by nine African countries, which excluded South Africa. South Africa, instead, was issued with the legal rights to export fixed quotas of lion bones. The reasoning behind this move was that it would “end the illegal lion-bone trade”.

Trendler told the Zoutpansberger that this industry was currently very much under the radar. No official numbers were obtainable regarding the number of registered lion breeders, although the fact that the number of breeders stands at 200 is known. Slaughterhouses that have been seen by the NSPCA thus far are only those that have been reported by members of the public because of extreme cases of cruelty in the care, handling and slaughter of certain lions.

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The NSPCA has huge animal welfare concerns for the animals exploited in the captive predator and canned hunting industry in South Africa. This industry is unregulated, uncontrolled and is responsible for untold cruelty. It is a tragedy that our wild animals are reduced to profit making machines. Coupled with this members of public are unwittingly encouraging and supporting this cruelty, so it is vital that the public are aware of the truth behind the industry so they can make informed decisions and hopefully choose not to support such an unethical industry.

Sr.Ainsley Hay, Manager, NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit

Breeding magnificent wild creatures like lions in camps so that they can be slaughtered for ego and money is unconscionable and should be outlawed.  Lions have the right to live in the wild and to continue playing their unique role within the ecological communities of Africa.  The continued existence of the canned hunting industry is a moral outrage that diminishes us all.  This important film shines a light into the dark corners of this ugly business.

Cormac Cullinan, Cullinan & Associates Incorporated

Cruel, barbaric, macabre – all words used by Australian MPs about lion farming and the canned lion hunting industry in SA.  Our campaign was glad to be able to assist and participate in a full length documentary that aims to expose a brutal industry whose whole business model is routine, egregious cruelty to helpless animals – for fun.

Chris Mercer, Founder, CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting)

Captive lions have long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape and their tragic story needed to be exposed before these practices negatively impacted on Brand South Africa. Congratulations to all involved in taking the time and making this happen.

Colin Bell, Tourism consultant and author of “Africa’s Finest”

“As a travel and conservation based organization, we find the “Blood Lions” documentary deeply disturbing. Despite being hard to watch, we urge people to get out there and see it. It is important to shed light on the dark and corrupt business of rearing lions for the purposes of hunting, in hopes of making a positive change. As we polled our membership, we found that individually each of our companies have chosen to stop booking all activities that contribute to this industry.”

The Safari Professionals – 30 Tour Operators based in the US and Canada

South Africa’s failure to address the canned hunting industry has emboldened those who make a living out of the death of lions bred, raised and slaughtered on a ‘no kill, no fee’ basis. The canned hunting industry is unnatural, unethical and unacceptable. It delivers compromised animal welfare and zero education. It undermines conservation and creates a moral vacuum now inhabited by the greed and grotesque self-importance of those who derive pleasure in the taking of life.

Blood Lions lays bare the truth behind the canned hunting industry that, far from contributing to the future survival of the species, may, in fact, accelerate extinction in the wild, leaving behind a trail  littered with rotting corpses of its helpless and hopeless victims.

Will Travers OBE, President Born Free Foundation

The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, in providing support for the making of this Documentary, does so in the firm belief that it is important that the true facts behind captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting in South Africa, is brought to the attention of a global audience in order to create awareness which in turn will lead to much needed change.

Les Ward MBE, Chairman, The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust

This is a timely, courageous as well as a deeply disturbing documentary. It is at the same time, a voice for the wild and the voiceless … of saying “NO MORE!” to that terrible triad of financial opportunism, deceit and indifference to the non-human animal by those claiming to be conservationists.

Ian McCallum – Author, poet, psychiatrist and naturalist

With the constant pressure on wildlife, every effort must be made to keep our last vestiges of natural fauna and flora protected.    Canned hunting of any kind, along with the related consequences, must be condemned by humanity as not only a travesty of nature but also an utterly inhumane practise.   Taming lion cubs only to later hunt them is an utterly inhumane practice.   It is pseudo-hunting, a complete sham and does not even qualify as hunting on a sustainable use basis.   Wildlife conservation has to evolve into practices that are ethical, humanitarian and sustainable. This will not be achieved if there is not real and fair community involvement which has not been part of the hunting fraternity’s evolution.

Yvette Taylor, Executive Director, The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation

“Canned lion ‘hunting’ is nothing less than a bargain basement opportunity for foreign hunters to engage in one of South Africa’s most sordid practices. Hunting of captive bred lions entirely dependent on human fingerprints from cub to trophy is immoral, unethical and against all animal welfare concerns. The fact that it still continues as profitable commerce is a damning statement against all of us who have not properly engaged to snuff it out. Blood Lions is a good start to bring change.”

Dr Pieter Kat – Director: LionAid

Canned Lion