On July 16, South Africa announced that it will double its annual exports of lion skeletons. As the country is raising its export limits from 800 to 1500, many worry that this decision will further encourage illegal trade.

Lions’ bodies are highly sought-after commodities. Specifically, lions’ bones, teeth, and claws are all very valuable. In South East Asia, lion skeletons are believed to possess medicinal properties.

According to the Born Free Foundation, a non-profit welfare and conservation organization, most lion skeletons end up in Laos or Vietnam. Oftentimes these nations are guilty of illegal wildlife trafficking. However, lions are not the most sought-after commodity in these South East Asian nations.

Lion bones are frequently sold as “tiger parts.” Tigers are considered to be status symbols throughout much of Asia, and tiger bone wine is thought to provide people with strength and vigor.

Four-thousand tigers remain in the wild, and any trade of the endangered animals is illegal.

While it is illegal to poach lions in South Africa, the nation has legalized the export of skeletons from captive facilities wherein lions are bred and raised.

International trade of lion parts is mostly prohibited.

Some businesses allow customers to kill lions in “canned hunts.” These customers are allowed to keep the heads or skins of the animals.

How Do Wildlife Experts Feel About This?


Many conservationists suspect that trafficking of lions will only increase.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature warned in 2016 that “wild lion parts from eastern and southern Africa could be drawn into the large illegal wildlife trade to Asia centered around elephant ivory.”

“All our research and the data we collected clearly shows that the legal trade is part of the illegal trade,” says Michele Pickover, director of the EMS Foundation. “They cannot be separated.”

There are currently 1300 to 1700 adult lions in the wild, while 8000 reside in South African captive facilities. The population of lions dropped by 43 percent between 1993 and 2014.

Twenty thousand lions currently live in Africa.

South Africa’s department of environmental affairs released a statement promising that increasing the quota of lion skeleton exports will decrease the number of bones stockpiling at captive facilities. The statement reads:

“If there is ongoing demand for lion bone and the supply from captive breeding facilities is restricted, dealers may seek alternative sources, either through illegal access to stockpiles or by poaching both captive-bred and wild lion.”


Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons.