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Two lions at the Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in Bethlehem, South Africa. (Reuters/Peter Andrews)
BONE OF CONTENTION

China banned the sale of tiger bones so traders are importing South African lion parts instead

By Khanya Mtshali

The ban on tiger trading in China is causing importers to use South African lion parts to make traditional tiger-based medicines, according to a report by the Environment Investigation Agency (EIA).

Traders are replacing tiger parts with lion parts to sidestep Chinese laws regarding the sale and purchase of products containing tiger bones.  A joint study from conservation groups, Traffic and Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, notes that the sale of lion skeletons in South Africa had jumped from 50 skeletons in 2008 to 800 in 2015.

In China and parts of South East Asia, tiger bones are regarded to have powerful medicinal qualities.

In 1993, the Chinese government outlawed the trade of tiger bones in a bid to preserve the species which is listed as endangered by the World Wildlife Fund. When poachers turned to leopards and other Asiatic big cats as a substitute, the government implemented protective measures from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in 2002 and 2006.

South Africa is the main exporter of lion skeletons to Asia. Traffic and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit have warned that the country will provide “a plentiful, cheaper and mostly legally sourced alternative to tiger bones” in the future.

As well as demand for tiger bones, China is also responsible for the huge demand for rhino horns and elephant tusks, also for medicinal purposes. The Chinese demand has seen an increase in poaching and endangering species of rhinos and dwindling elephant populations. Last December, China said it would enforce a total ban on domestic ivory trade within a year.

The move is considered a major milestone by conservationists who argue that China’s domestic ivory trade is the desirable end-market for poached ivory, mainly from Africa. Without China’s market, poachers will find it tougher to cash in on illegal ivory.