Evidence of a further emerging threat to lion conservation; targeted poaching for body parts

Banner image courtesy of Greater Limpopo Carnivore Programme

A recent Africa Geographic article, “Lion poaching: Escalating demand for claws and teeth,” 2 January 2020 has summarised the conclusions of a paper published towards the end of 2019:

Everatt, K.T; Kokes, R. & Lopez Pereira, C., October 2019 –Evidence of a further emerging threat to lion conservation; targeted poaching for body parts,” Biodiversity and Conservation (2019) 28: 4099. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-019-01866-w

This study makes a potential link:

“……between the escalation in poaching of wild lions and South Africa’s increasing export of captive-bred lion skeletons and body parts, which has shown exponential growth since 2007. This trade feeds a growing market among upwardly mobile Asians for luxury products, such as lion bone wine, with lion bones used in lieu of tiger bones as tiger parts become increasingly scarce.

The rising demand for lion body parts could exacerbate motives to kill lions in the vicinity of communities and livestock, irrespective of livestock losses or a perceived threat of losses. Incentivising the killing of lions by a demand for body parts could seriously undermine conflict mitigation efforts.

Lion poaching for body parts has also increased in the Niassa reserve in northern Mozambique (C. Beggs Niassa Lion Project pers coms) and of captive lions in the Limpopo province of South Africa (K. Marnewick Endangered Wildlife Trust pers coms). Lions killed for conflict in the Caprivi region of Namibia also had teeth and claws removed (L. Hansen Kwando Carnivore Project pers coms)” – “Lion poaching: Escalating demand for claws and teeth,” Africa Geographic, 2 January 2020

……..predominantly Chinese tourists were fuelling a demand for lion teeth and claws, supplied with lions often killed in conflict situations by Masai herdsmen, while other body parts such as pieces of skin, were sought for local demand. The situation we present from Mozambique may have similarities to the situation documented in Kenya, however the main source of the demand is still speculative” – Everatt et al., 2019

Therefore, there is an implied correlation that captive lion breeding and the lion bone and derivative parts trade stemming from South Africa is not acting as a ‘buffer’ for wild lions:

The South African Predator Association (SAPA) claims that the hunting of captive bred lions presents direct conservation benefits to wild lions by the supply of ‘legal’ body parts and taking hunting pressure away from wild lion populations – this is the “possible buffer” theory perpetuated by Williams, V.T. et al. 2019:

Aside from considering a possible buffer effect of legal body part exports, questions remain in the conservation role of captive lion breeding for hunting……

This study (Everatt et al., 2019) concludes that the captive lion industry/lion bone trade is potentially increasing demand for lion body parts and derivatives, with ‘conflict killings’ of wild lions being used as an excuse to harvest lion body parts to try and profit from the demand/trade:

The legal export of lion parts from captive lion breeders in South Africa may also fuel an illegal trade in lion body parts to be used within Traditional Chinese Medicine markets or curios (Williams et al. 2017a). While direct evidence linking the legal trade in captive sourced lion parts from South Africa to the targeted poaching of wild lion populations has to date been scant (Williams et al. 2015), there is reasonable concern of a link (CITES 2016; Parliamentary hearings). Lion teeth and claws have the highest monetary value in South Africa’s legal market (Williams et al. 2019).  In all of the lion poaching incidences we documented where only teeth and claws were taken, the poachers involved were working on foot and under at least a nominal threat of being arrested. In such a situation it is likely that poacher’s selection for teeth and claws over removing full skeletons is a way of optimizing their return while reducing the costs.”

……..our findings have [also] indicated a possible international demand from Vietnam impacting this wild population and calls for further detailed investigation.”

Further Reading

Lion Declines Linked To Trophy Hunting And Bone Trade,” Jared Kukura, Wild Things Initiative, 13 January 2020 

Suspects arrested after trying to sell lion paws for R300K to undercover agent,” IoL, 7 January 2020

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