Illegal Possession of Lion Bones Exposes South Africa’s Growing Underground Trade

Illegal Possession of Lion Bones Exposes South Africa’s Growing Underground Trade

…By Roland Peterson for TDPel Media. South Africa’s legal trade of lion bones to Asia has inadvertently fueled a rapidly expanding illegal trade of these animal carcasses.


In a recent incident, a 43-year-old man was apprehended for the illegal possession of lion bones intended for export to Asia.

Airport security guards at Germiston alerted members of the Hawks’ Economic Protected Resources unit after discovering suspicious items in the suspect’s luggage.

The individual was on the verge of boarding a flight to Vietnam via Qatar.


Upon preliminary investigation, it was revealed that the suspect was transporting the carcasses of five lions.

Police also seized foreign currency, a cellphone, and two passports from him.

The suspect now faces charges related to illegal wildlife trading, possession of lion bones, and contravention of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA).

Inside South Africa’s Lion Bone Trade and Its Challenges

The trade in lion bones within South Africa has been shrouded in controversy.

In 2016, a resolution was passed at the 17th CITES Congress of Parties (COP17) allowing the country to trade in lion parts from captive lions.


However, distinguishing between captive and wild lions poses a significant challenge for law enforcement agencies.

Contrary to government claims that South Africa’s lion bone trade is primarily a by-product of the canned trophy hunting industry, reports indicate that a substantial percentage of the lion skeletons exported in 2017 included skulls.

This raises concerns that big cats, including tigers, are being bred commercially for their bones.

Lion bones serve as a substitute for tiger bones in fortified tiger wine and Traditional Chinese Medicines.

Additionally, they are used in the production of various items, such as jewelry, including bracelets and trinkets.



The arrest of an individual attempting to smuggle lion bones out of South Africa highlights the alarming growth of the illegal trade in these animal carcasses.

It underscores the challenges faced by authorities in distinguishing between captive and wild lions.

The demand for lion bones in Asia, driven by their use as substitutes for tiger bones, raises concerns about the commercial breeding of big cats for this purpose.

The situation calls for continued efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and strengthen conservation measures to protect these endangered species.


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