How the captive Lion bone trade is killing Africas and Asias big cats

How the captive Lion bone trade is killing Africas and Asias big cats

Original Article August 2, 2018 – by John R. Platt – Article adapted for better readability
Angry headlines around the world decried the news that the Trump administration had issued trophy-import permits for 38 lions killed by 33 hunters — including many high-rolling Republican donors — between 2016 and 2018. But the captive Lion bone trade is much worse. Experts worry this booming trade could doom the big cats in the wild.

How the captive Lion bone trade is killing Africas and Asias big cats

The Lion species has experienced massive population drops over the past two decades. In 2016, the big cats got some protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Obama-era regulations still allowed some hunting. Imports of trophies were legal, as long as the host countries could prove that their hunts were sustainable. The Trump administration lifted that requirement last year and instead allowed imports on a “case-by-case basis.” Those 38 dead lions represent the Trump administration’s shift on hunting of endangered species.

A story that came out about the captive Lion bone trade around the same time was more worrying than these trophies. A leaked letter from the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs revealed that it had nearly doubled the legal captive lion bone trade quota and it would allow the skeletons to be exported from the country. The quota went up from 800 to 1500 skeletons, a dramatic increase.

Avaaz Poster in Mall against Captive Lion Bone Trade

The captive Lion bone trade is worse

Unlike the lions that are slain by hunters, the South African bones come from the country’s 300-plus lion farms. Here, the big cats are raised — often in terrible conditions — for use in “caged hunts.” There, according to the 2015 documentary Blood Lions, foreign hunters pay as much as $50,000 to shoot semi-tame lions in small, walled-off, inescapable encampments. The heads and skins from these caged hunts become trophies. The rest of the bodies are shipped to Asia. There the bones are ground down to be used as “medicine” and as a component in wine. There is no medicinal quality in lion or tiger bones.

These factory farms are believed to contain about 8,000 to 12,000 captive-bred lions. An astonishing number compared to the fewer than 20,000 lions estimated to still live in the wild throughout Africa. South Africa itself is estimated to hold fewer than 2,000 adult wild lions.

Where does this demand for lion products come from? Experts say the increase in the lion-bone trade is a response to the decline in wild tiger populations in Asia. Tigers are also poached for “medicinal” products, although those big cats have become so rare in the wild — an estimated 3,900 animals spread across a dozen countries — that the industry has been forced to turn to other felines to feed its fortunes.

The captive Lion bone trade now feeds the Tiger Wine industry

Captive Lion bone trade is on the rise, whily hunting for trophies declines

Luke Hunter of Panthera says, “the lion never had any traditional value in China. It’s an analog to the tiger, so it seems to be acceptable there”. As more lions enter the legal bone trade, the danger to wild lions increases. A July 2017 report from the Environmental Investigation Agency said that legal trade in lion bones further threatens wild tigers and lions by stimulating demand for products made from their bodies. In traditional Asian medicine, wild products are considered more potent and valuable than farm-raised equivalents.

Interestingly enough, the farms and lion bone trade appears to also be inspiring an increase in the poaching of captive lions. Last month a report found that at least 60 captive lions in South Africa were killed by poachers since 2016.

Lion bred for the capitive lion bone trade

At least five captive tigers were also killed in South Africa

It is unclear how many tigers exist in South Africa, but the country has exported more than 200 captive-bred tigers over the past five years. About half of those cats were exported to Vietnam and Thailand, hubs of tiger-product smuggling activity.

All of this is big business and while most of it is legal, some of it may not be. Another new report, issued by two South African organizations called the EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading, accused the legal lion-bone trade of shipping a much greater quantity of bones than officially reported. The two organizations used their report to call for eliminating all lion exports from South Africa. They aslo call for restricting the breeding of lions and other big cats, and investigating the finances of breeders.

What does the future hold for wild lions? A 2015 study predicted that wild lions would see another 50 percent population decline in two decades. Reasons are poaching, the bushmeat trade, retaliatory killings for predation of livestock, and habitat loss. Add legal trophy hunting and poaching inspired by the legal bone trade into the mix and that timeline may become accelerated — and lions throughout Africa could pay the price.

Original Article August 2, 2018 – by John R. Platt

Skye the Lion – Call to Action

Skye the Lion – Call to Action
Opinion post: Written by Simon Espley, CEO of Africa Geographic
Skye the lion by Charlie Lynam
Skye the lion by Charlie Lynam

Skye the lion call to action

The highly controversial shooting of Skye the Lion by a trophy hunter in the Umbabat section of the Greater Kruger could conceivably mark the beginning of the end for trophy hunting in this part of Africa. I am speculating here, but please hear me out…

Since we reported the known facts about the hunt, I and many others have been digging for clarity. Was the hunted lion indeed ‘Skye’? – a dominant male of the Western Pride, featured in this tribute ‘The Story of Skye’ by Charlie Lynam, a shareholder in Ingwelala, one of the properties making up Umbabat. The photos accompanying this opinion editorial are of Skye and his pride.

The trophy hunting team insist that the lion killed was not Skye the pride male, claiming that he was in fact an old male lion with worn teeth and a protruding spine. But they refuse point blank to supply a photo of the dead lion to prove their claim, citing legal and personal safety concerns. Lynam and others insist that Skye the pride male was killed. According to Lynam, Skye has not been seen since the day of the killing of that lion. Additionally, one of his cubs has since been killed and some of the pride lionesses have been beaten up as a new coalition of males has moved into the area. This is classic lion behavior when a dominant male is removed and new male/s move into the vacuum – cubs are killed (infanticide) and lionesses are beaten up as they try to defend their cubs.

The Lion Skye with two cubs
The Lion Skye with two cubs @ Charlie Lynam

Recently activist Don Pinnock, who broke the story, has revealed that the hunter in question is an American by the name of Jared Whitworth, from Hardinsburg, Kentucky. He also revealed the names of the South African hunting outfitter who sold and managed the hunt and the government official who signed off on the lion permit. Whitworth is a member of Safari Club International (SCI), which defines hunting success in terms of size and rarity. Apparently the larger the horns/tusks and rarer the animal, the more respect you are due for killing it. Whitworth’s 15-year-old daughter was awarded the title “2018 SCI Young Hunter of the Year”, and the SCI website features her proudly posing with a massive buffalo she killed. I found this out by visiting the SCI website a few days ago – and note with interest that today those pages have been removed (fortunately I saved a screenshot). Are the SCI members now afraid of the tree-huggers? Perhaps they should be …

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I start reasoning why I believe that trophy hunting will soon end in the Greater Kruger.

As I write this, an investigative agency has been hired to look into the legality of the Skye hunt, there is a popular online petition calling for justice, and various people are digging away to find out the personal information of everyone involved. Momentum is building, and I hear that the guilty parties are shaking in their boots. Anyone remember what happened to Walter Palmer, the American dentist who shot Cecil the Lion, once his name was known to the public?

Let me be blunt: Do trophy hunters really think that they can keep these things secret in this day and age, and do they and their families feel safe knowing that their deeds will be in the public domain sooner or later? I understand from sources that the southern African trophy hunting industry is already suffering from cancellations because of increased public scrutiny and vigilantism.

Skye the Lion watching over his territory at Kruger Park
Skye the Lion watching over his territory

Beyond the hunter and the hunting outfitter, what about the other people involved – the government officials and game reserve management? How long before these people decide that they are not prepared to take the risk and stress of being associated with this industry that specializes in surgically removing the last-remaining big-gene animals? Many of these people are simply ordinary employees, who signed up to be involved in conservation and now find themselves defending an industry they don’t even believe in, and being subjected to personal abuse and threats of physical violence.

We are increasingly seeing government departments and officials being targeted by a tidal wave of emotional backlash against trophy hunting. The fact that much of the commentary is factually inaccurate is beside the point – this is a battle of emotion, not fact. The anger generated amongst the social media-empowered general public, driven by activists who value impact over fact, is a toxic cocktail that will drive change – regardless of the consequences. Recently the Namibian government issued a ruling that trophy hunters to that country cannot publish kill photos on social media. This bizarre and unenforceable move is surely a testament to the extent of the pressure that is being brought to bear on the trophy hunting industry.

Anti-hunting activists are evolving, and increasingly now combining their immense social media support base with targeted action against specific perpetrators. On the other hand, the trophy hunting industry does not have the DNA to evolve. They are still barking out the same defensive rhetoric from decades ago – despite the conservation landscape having shifted massively under the immense pressure of habitat loss and poaching. This industry will never be driven by ethics and transparency; it is entirely opportunistic and known to retrofit the conservation argument based on the specifics of the particular animal hunted.

In the court of public opinion, we are all judged by the company we keep, and the partners we choose. In my opinion, if management of the Greater Kruger does not change tack and distance itself from their trophy hunting partners, this tremendous conservation initiative will self-destruct. Members of the Greater Kruger simply cannot any longer risk being associated with an industry that refuses to evolve, and regularly shoots itself in the foot. Quite simply, they have to dissociate themselves or face eventual ruin.

Skye the Lion shot at Umbabat by an American hunter after been lured out of Kruger Park
Skye the Lion shot at Umbabat

And that is why I believe that it is only a matter of time before trophy hunting ceases to be a management tool in the Greater Kruger.

Of course, the landowners and managers of these wildlife reserves will consequently need to source alternative funding for their rapidly escalating anti-poaching and general conservation costs. Photographic tourism can provide some of the extra funding, but not all of it. Even if all parties agree to higher lodge and vehicle densities (with concomitant increased environmental pressure) and higher lodge prices, not all areas in the Greater Kruger have the same tourism potential – this is a simple fact based on location, carrying capacity and biodiversity. Many of the most vocal social media activists have never been on safari in Africa, and are unlikely ever to. But hopefully, they will donate to a fund to enable anti-poaching work in the Greater Kruger to continue.

I suspect that some landowners, especially the local communities, will seriously consider alternative land uses such as livestock and crops, once trophy hunting is off the table. There are few straight roads in Africa.

Some pro-hunting folk will refuse to acknowledge advice like mine if it does not come accompanied by instant iron-clad alternatives to hunting. With respect, this is like refusing to accept that your daughter is pregnant, just because she won’t tell you who the father is. The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that you have a problem.

I have great faith that in time trophy hunting in the Greater Kruger will be replaced by a more ethical, more relevant sustainable land-use strategy. This will take time, but it will happen. A luta continua!

CALL TO ACTION:
Please have your say on the lion bone quota and the killing of Skye the lion in South Africa and submit your comment to the Chairperson of the Colloquium in Parliament, Cape Town. The debate will focus precisely on these two controversial topics and we ask you to support our participation!

The Colloquium will start on Tuesday, August the 21st 2018 at 8.00 so, please, send your message before Monday.

Please write to
pmapulane@parliament.gov.za, the Chair, and briefly/clearly state:

  • Demand justice for Skye the lion and his pride, after he was baited out of the Kruger and shot in June in a private reserve.
  • If you approve or not the captive lion industry and the lion bone trading in South Africa
  • If you agree or not on the practice of hunting around the unfenced boundary of the Kruger Park.
  • Indicate which country are you from and if you will continue to visit South Africa and its Parks after realizing how this country exploits its iconic animals and natural resources.

If you want, you can also:

  • Suggest that the truth over the illegal trading in lion bones due to corruption is emerging and creating outrage worldwide.
  • Comment if trophy hunting is/ is not, in your opinion, essential for the conservation of eco-systems and wildlife in South Africa