Growing demand for lion-bone potions
Officials turn a blind eye to the smuggling of wild lions - report
South African farmers are using cattle-rustling routes in the Northern Cape to smuggle wild lions and other predators out of Botswana to supply a growing demand for lion-bone potions in the Far East.
Conservationists said this week the illicit trade by organised cartels was adding to the pressures that could see the extinction of big cats in the wild within 10 to 12 years.
The Mail and Guardian reports that the conservationists have denounced Environment Minister Edna Molewa’s recent response to parliamentary questions that a moratorium on lion-bone exports from South Africa was unnecessary because they do not pose a threat to the survival of the species in the wild.
Dereck Joubert, leader of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, said the lion-bone market was adding to the “emergency situation” facing Africa’s wild lions — the population has crashed from about 200,000 in the 1970s to less than 20,000 today.
“The bone trade out of South Africa is stimulating the market in Asia, which is far bigger than the supply will ever be. Selling lion bones on the market is also putting more pressure on tiger populations and there are fewer than 3,000 of them left in the wild,” he said.
Cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and ivory are also part of the cross-border contraband.
An investigator said the trade was being conducted by organised syndicates, which use cellphones and motorcycles to round up livestock and herd them into temporary kraals. Hundreds of cattle will then be loaded on to double-decker trucks using a portable ramp and taken to the border crossing points.
“The two businesses are linked in that, in most cases, the same people who are involved in the theft, smuggling and trading in [mostly stolen] livestock are also involved in the illegal capture, smuggling and trading of predators,” he said.
Details of the smuggling had been supplied to police and conservation officials on both sides of the border, he said. But although a few arrests have been made, there has been little follow-through because local politicians and authorities in both countries are implicated.