Lion’s bones in the Chinese medicine
It has long been suspected: after the tiger playing an important role as a supplier of traditional Chinese medicine products had come near to eradicating, the next big cat came into sight of African traders: the lion. Its pulverized bones and the “lion’s wine” derived therefrom are regarded as panaceas. There is no scientific evidence about the effectiveness of such a therapy.
The situation is particularly dramatic because there has been a 90% decline of the lion population within a few decades: whereas the number of animals in the 70s came to 200.000, there are only 20.000 individuals today.
According to informants' reports at the South African newspaper mail & guardian, trade in lion’s bones organised crime associations from the Far East. They work together with African farmers, transporters, hunting farms and lion breeders.
It is based on the following principle: South African farms are being bought up so that corridor spans 200 farms and extends from the southern Botswana that is rich in species to South Africa's Northern Cape Province.
The killed lions were bred in hunting farms, which are involved in the breeding of lions in order to offer the animals to wealthy hunting tourists for hunting purposes, so-called “canned hunting”. In addition, mail & guardian reported that there is increasing evidence that lions exported to Asia were not only born in specialist breeding facilities but some of these animals were wild.
In order to run the bones and furs of the lions across the border illegally, cartels work closely with livestock transporters: they hide the dead cats are hidden among the hundreds of goats on a double-decker livestock trucks, so that they can then cross the border.
Neither Botswana nor South African authorities had expressed serious concerns about this criminal trade. With the exception of a few border arrests of persons pulling the strings behind the operations, not much has happened yet. They point to the fact that trade in bones of lions bred in hunting farms do not pose a threat to the animals living in the wild.
This is contradicted by conservationists: the wild lion, whose skeleton is estimated to be equivalent to 10.000 euros, is considered in the view of some Asians trusting in this form of healing based on the Chinese medicine to be “potent” and thus more valuable. No one can determine the actual origin of the problem. Insider reports on wild lion cubs having been snatched away from their lactating mother, when they come to the waterhole to drink, they also claim to have seen the smuggling of cheetahs, leopards and hyenas.
No information was given as to the number of lions falling victim to the trade, but official records at the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs show there has been a 150% growth in exports of lion products since 2009 – nobody knows the exact number of unreported cases.
The fact is that the lion's bone is now arriving in Asian pharmacies. In reply to a question from the SAVE Wildlife Conservation Fund, Belinda Wright, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) confirmed that the powdered lion's bones are available and legal in Asian pharmacies. She is also convinced that lion‘s bones, as a substitute for tiger bone, are now being incorporated into the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). In China the trade is perfectly legal.
Conservation organizations such as SAVE fear the sell-out of the Asian wilderness to the Asian medicine market. Protectors of lions predict that the big cats in southern Africa could actually go extinct in as little as 10 to 20 more years, if a stop is not put to this criminal trade. Now they are trying to exert pressure on the government to stop playing down the problem but to recognize its dramatic dimensions and to take action.