Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

On WORLD LION DAY call on South Africa to end the lion bone trade

10 August 2017

Categories: Homepage News, Big Cats Campaign News, Wildlife Trade News

Today is World Lion Day, when we celebrate these magnificent animals which mean so much to Born Free and to millions around the world.

Yet the future for wild lions is precarious, with as few as 20,000 remaining across Africa occupying just 8% of their historic range.

In spite of this, South Africa’s government has seen fit to treat these animals as little more than tradeable commodities. In June of this year, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) declared that 800 lion skeletons could be sold for profit by lion breeders.

An estimated 8,000 predators, mainly lions, currently languish in 200 or more breeding farms across South Africa. These animals are intensively bred and raised in captivity exclusively to generate income, by duping unsuspecting paying visitors into thinking they are contributing to lion conservation, and by providing lions for the notorious ‘canned hunting’ industry. South Africa allows this appalling situation to flourish, in spite of international condemnation and calls from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for the industry to be terminated.

The establishment of the export quota enables South Africa’s lion breeders to generate further income from their cruel and controversial businesses. A captive lion breeder can now make around US$1,500 from each animal by selling its skeleton to Asian buyers, in addition to the money generated by offering ‘cub petting’ and ‘walking with lions’ opportunities to unsuspecting tourists, and the US$5,000 – US$25,000 that a ‘hunter’ may have paid to kill the animal in a ‘canned hunt’. 

The export quota has been set in spite of the adoption of a zero quota for export of bones and other body parts from wild lions, agreed by the international community at last year’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This decision was taken in response to the increasing threat posed by international trade in lion parts, particularly bones. 

In taking this decision the South African government has failed to account for evidence showing the negative impact bone trade is having on wild lion populations. Studies suggest that the lion bone trade is fuelling demand in Asia, where lion bones are increasingly used as a substitute for tiger bone in wines, tonics and other products. Trade in lion bones from captive-bred lions is also being used as a cover for illegally-obtained bones from wild lions.

Now more than ever, on World Lion Day, it is time for us to make our voice heard. 

Please contact the South African High Commission in London, or if you live outside the UK the South African Embassy in your country, expressing your opposition to this quota, and your concern about the lion bone trade and the lion breeding industry.

Thank you for your support for wildlife. In your letter, which should be polite but firm, you may wish to include the following points:

  • Lions are in serious decline across most of the African continent. As few as 20,000 may remain, and scientists predict that without concerted action to protect them, numbers could fall by a further 50% in the next 20 years.

  • South Africa has bucked this trend and has a relatively stable wild lion population. South Africa needs to show leadership in lion conservation if these magnificent animals are to survive and thrive for future generations.

  • The increasing trade in lion bones and other body parts is recognized as a major threat to existing lion populations, alongside habitat and prey loss and conflict with people.

  • South Africa’s captive predator breeding industry, and the canned hunting practices it feeds, serve no conservation purpose and have been condemned by the international community. In 2016, the World Conservation Congress (IUCN) passed a Resolution calling for the termination of the industry.

  • By issuing an export quota for 800 lion skeletons from captive-bred animals, South Africa risks stimulating international demand for lion bones and creating a mechanism by which bones and other products from wild lions can be ‘laundered’ into trade, increasing the threat facing wild lions across the African continent.

  • Studies to further examine the impact of the bone trade on wild lions are due to be conducted by both CITES and by the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

  • It is surely incumbent on South Africa to take a precautionary approach and establish a zero quota for the commercial export of lion bones and other products from lions from any source, at least until studies to investigate the impacts on wild lions have been completed.

  • South Africa should listen to the international community and devise a plan to close down the appalling captive predator breeding and canned hunting industries, which serve no conservation purpose (as recognized by the South African Government in its Biodiversity Management Plan for lions) and subject thousands of animals to poor welfare conditions.

Your letter should be sent to:

His Excellency Mr. Obed Mlaba
South African High Commissioner to the UK
South Africa House
Trafalgar Square
London WC2N 5DP


South African embassies overseas:


Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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