A zero quota would exist for the export of bones from wild lions, but SA would establish a quota for bones from captive breeding facilities, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced in February.

There is significant evidence that SA’s legal trade in captive-bred lion trophies is accelerating the slaughter of wild lions for their parts in neighbouring countries and increasing demand for lion parts in Asia — a market that did not exist before SA started exporting lion bones in 2007. The bones are used for traditional medicine and wine in Asian countries.

Proponents of the captive lion trade argue that the
industry reduces demand for wild lion parts, thereby benefiting conservation.

"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," the department said in a statement. "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."

Based on an assessment of previous years’ trade data, a quota of 800 skeletons was proposed. The quota will be managed at national level, and international trade will be restricted to skeletons.

Following on receipt of an application from a captive breeding operation, the relevant province will confirm with the DEA department whether a quota is available  and the province will evaluate the application.

Lion skeletons will be packed separately at source, weighed and tagged and a DNA sample taken. The consignment will be inspected, the permit endorsed at port of exit and random DNA samples will be collected.

The Department of Environmental Affairs said the South African National Biodiversity Institute would initiate a study "to increase the understanding of the lion bone trade in SA and the captive lion breeding industry" and to "investigate how the trade in captive-produced lion bone under a quota system affects wild lion populations".

Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organisation, criticised the decision. "The number of captive-bred lion carcasses legally exported from SA — primarily feeding a growing market among upwardly mobile Asians for luxury products such as lion bone wine — has grown exponentially since 2007, as lion bones have begun to fill demand for increasingly scarce tiger bones," it said.

It condemned the quota as arbitrary and potentially devastating for wild lion and critically endangered tiger populations. Panthera is calling on the department to institute a moratorium on lion bone exports, effective immediately.

"The government’s proposed quota of 800 lion skeletons for legal export has absolutely no grounding in science," says Dr Paul Funston, senior director of Panthera’s Lion Programme.

"It is irresponsible to establish policy that could further imperil wild lions … when the facts are clear: SA’s breeding industry makes absolutely no positive contribution to conserving lions and, indeed, further imperils them.

"It is confounding that a country whose iconic wild lions are such a source of national pride — not to mention tourist revenue — would take such risks to sustain a marginal captive breeding industry that is condemned globally for its shameful practices. The legal farming of lions for tourists to bottle-feed, pet and ultimately hunt in tiny enclosures is a stain on SA’s reputation as stewards of Africa’s wildlife."

Panthera president Dr Luke Hunter said there was "not one shred of scientific evidence showing that canned hunting and legal lion bone exports take the poaching pressure off wild lion populations".

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