From king of the jungle to traded skeleton

FOUR PAWS urges South Africa to change direction on the fate of lions for International Lion Day


This year’s International Lion Day (10 August) could be the start of a urgent turning point for lions. The iconic animal, once feared and awed as the ‘King of the Jungle’, has been degraded to a traded skeleton by the authorities in South Africa. Already bred to be manhandled as cubs and hunted as adults, lions are now exposed to further injustice after authorities introduced a lion skeleton export quota of 800 lions per year in 2017. The lion skeletons are sold to Asia where they are used, along with other endangered big cats, as ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine. On the occasion of two-day colloquium on the captive lion breeding in South Africa coming up in August, FOUR PAWS urges the authorities to drop the quota and take a first step to ban the breeding and trade of captive lions.

Legal trade putting wild lions at risk

The horrific trade in endangered big cats is wide reaching, with evidence of illegal activity across Europe. But captive lions of South Africa are at risk too, and with full support from their government, which introduced a lion skeleton export quota of 800 skeletons in June 2017. Despite controversies and protests, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) announced an increase to 1,500 skeletons on 16 July this year. This shocking development is expected to have detrimental effects on wild lions, which is underlined by increases in poaching of wild lions for body parts over recent years. The export quota also blatantly dismisses the efforts of other countries to protect lions at the international level.

Barbara van Genne, Project Lead Big Cats FOUR PAWS, states: “Lions need protection and not an increase on their skeleton export quota! It is an illusion that the trade with captive lions does not have an effect on the wild populations. It is all interlinked and legal trade will fuel illegal trade. In the end African Lions are a threatened species and it is in our power to protect them or let them become extinct. And it would be a great loss indeed, if the ‘king of the jungle’ would be no more.”

Why lions and tigers are in the same boat

Just two weeks ago, FOUR PAWS revealed how the global trade of tigers and their body parts is flourishing. Tiger bones and other tiger products, such as bouillon cubes, are sold for a lot of money on the black market. The increased export quota for lions only adds pressure to other big cat species threatened with extinction, such as tigers, by creating more demand for big cat products. It’s practically impossible to determine the difference between the bones of a lion or bones from a tiger poached from the wild, whose bones are not allowed to be traded. FOUR PAWS is also in the possession of footage of an interview with a trader, who confirms that once skinned, tigers and lions look the same.

Turning point or charade?

A colloquium titled ‘Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa: Harming or Promoting the Conservation Image of the Country’ is planned for 21 and 22 August. It is supposed to give stakeholders an opportunity to present arguments for and against captive breeding of lions. The outcome of the discussions may drive a change to the current legislation. This sounds promising, but it remains to be seen if South Africa is truly interested to provide lions with the protection that they so desperately need. For instance, the Department of Tourism does not seem to be involved and the agenda is restricted to the effect of lion farming on the conservation image of South Africa.

Fiona Miles, Country Director FOUR PAWS South Africa, will join the colloquium meeting and is cautiously optimistic about the progress this colloquium can mean for lions: “We hope that it is part of a catalyst for change from a government point of view. This cannot be another two days discussion without clear objectives and impact.”

FOUR PAWS has started a petition and asks supporters to call on the South African Government to end their cruel and irresponsible private keeping for breeding and canned lion hunting and additionally banning all trade of the species:

Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations

+43 (0) 664 885 33 270

VIER PFOTEN International 
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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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