Captive bred lion in a cage, South Africa

Credit: Ian Michler & Blood Lions

South Africa’s lion bone trade disastrous for wild tigers

EIA is appalled that South Africa intends to export the skeletons of 800 African lions a year into a trade that stimulates consumer demand for the bones of more endangered big cats.

An attempt to put lions in CITES Appendix I with a zero quota on wild and captive lion bone trade failed at CITES CoP17 last October. Instead, a compromise document resulted in South Africa being allowed to continue with captive-lion bone trade.

From 2008-14, the bones of more than 4,900 African lions, from both wild and captive sources, were traded from South Africa to Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China. This lion bone is marketed to end consumers as tiger bone and is indicative of the rapidly expanding and unchecked demand for ‘tiger bone wine’.

Legal big cat bone trade undermines enforcement and exacerbates tiger bone trade as elite consumers will continue to seek the authentic bones of wild tigers as a premium product, which in turn leads to poaching and illegal trade across Asia. Snow leopards, Asiatic lions, leopards and even jaguars are also poached for the big cat bone trade in Asia.

Some of the captive-bred lion facilities in South Africa are also farming tigers and sending body parts to Asia, completely in contravention of CITES decisions on tigers. The fact that South Africa’s regulations are insufficient to prohibit this should sound alarm bells for tiger and lion conservationists alike.

Debbie Banks, team leader of EIA’s Tigers Campaign, said: “There are fewer than 4,000 wild tigers remaining and all governments need to do everything they can to eliminate threats.

“We strongly urge South Africa to take into account the wider impact of the captive lion bone trade beyond its borders, issue a zero quota on lion bone exports from all sources and amend its laws to comply with CITES decisions to prevent the farming of tigers for trade in their parts and derivatives.”

What can you do?

South Africa’s Environmental Affairs department is holding a public consultation on the proposed lion export quota until February 2.

EIA urges all supporters and followers to submit respectful, written comments to Mr Mpho Tjiane via [email protected] before the deadline.

You can compose your own submission or adapt the suggested text below:


Dear Mr Mpho Tjiane

I would like to express my concern at your Government’s plan to export the skeletons of 800 African lions a year. I fear that not only will such sales normalise a consumer view of lions as a commodity, they will further add pressure on endangered big cats such as tigers by increasing the demand for products made from their bones.

I am sure you are aware that a major threat to the survival of tigers in the wild is the trade in their bones, and other parts and products, and that in many instances lion bone is used in place of tiger bone to produce high-end ‘wines’ which are marketed to consumers as tiger bone wine. There are fewer than 4,000 wild tigers remaining in the world – a legal trade in lion bone threatens to further exacerbate the trade threat faced by the last remaining wild tigers. I appeal to you and your Government to reconsider the sales of lion bones.

Yours sincerely

[Your name here]


Thank-you for taking action.