SANBI Interim report – South African lion bone trade
Vivienne L Williams, Michael t' Sas-Rolfes
27 November 2017

A Collaborative Lion Bone Research Project

1 Introduction and Project Aims

The African lion is the only big cat listed on CITES Appendix II, and the only one for which international
commercial trade is legal under CITES (Williams et al. 2017a). Debates on the contentious trade in lion
bones and body parts were amplified at the 2016 CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17) when
consensus on a proposal by Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Togo to
transfer all African populations of Panthera leo (lion) from Appendix II to Appendix I of CITES could not be
reached, and many southern African countries in particular opposed the proposal. Instead, through
negotiations within a working group, a compromise to keep P. leo on Appendix II with a bone trade quota
for South Africa, was agreed as follows:

A zero annual export quota is established for specimens of bones, bone pieces, bone products,
claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth removed from the wild and traded for commercial purposes.
Annual export quotas for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and
teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in South Africa, will be
established and communicated annually to the CITES Secretariat.

CoP17 underscored a need for further information on lion trade and the consequences for lions across the
continent. And, in accordance with the annotation, South Africa was required to establish an export quota
for lion bones, and the Scientific Authority was mandated to advise the Department of Environmental
Affairs (DEA) on the size of this quota on an annual basis. Following consultation with various relevant
government agencies (national and provincial) and other stakeholders (including a public meeting on 18
January 2017), the 2017 export quota was set at 800 skeletons (with or without the skull) in July 2017. No
specific export quotas were set for teeth, claws or individual bones; these items are included in the quota
as parts of a skeleton. In order to provide sound scientific decision support to the DEA, an interdisciplinary
and collaborative research project led by two independent experts, Dr VL Williams (VLW) and Mr M ‘t SasRolfes
(M’TSR), was commenced in March 2017 and will end in March 2020. This interim report is the first
in the series of report backs on the research to SANBI.

The core aims of the collaborative research project, as given in the collaboration memorandum, are:
1. To increase understanding of the captive breeding industry and the trade in lions (especially
bones, but also other products and live lions) in South Africa;
2. To investigate how the trade in captive-produced lion skeletons and other body parts under a
quota system affects wild lion populations;
3. To strengthen the evidence base for the annual review of the lion bone export quota in order to
ensure it is sustainable and not detrimental to wild populations.

The lion bone trade also interacts with the recreational hunting industry and may affect other felid species
internationally; accordingly, the project also aims:
4. To gain a better understanding of the consequences of the US ban on imports of captive-origin
trophies that took effect from the start of 2016;
5. To gain a better understanding of potential linkages between markets for lion body parts and
those of other large felids in and beyond Africa.

In respect of the aims, various sub-projects and/or data analysis activities were initiated in 2017, namely:
1. The National Captive Lion Survey: an online questionnaire survey distributed to South African
facilities that breed, keep, hunt and trade in lions (live and/or products) (commenced August
2017; ongoing, but to be closed in 2018 on a date to be determined; the focus of this report)
(various collaborators);
2. Analysis of data supplied by multiple information sources: analysis of available data (see Table 1)
to inform the evidence base;
3. Muthi market monitoring: a project tracking the presence of lion parts (mainly skins) in traditional
medicine outlets/markets (commenced January 2017; ongoing) (VLW only; not SANBI funded).

This 2017 Interim Report 1 on the collaborative lion bone project summarises some of the information
collected to date. Further additional research is planned for 2018 and beyond, which is discussed in
Section 6 of this report along with some important broader contextual considerations.

2 Methodology Overview for Sub-Projects & Activities Initiated in 2017

2.1 National captive lion survey

In August 2017 we launched the online ‘National captive lion survey’. The structured semi-quantitative
questionnaire with 61 questions (Supplementary Doc 1) was designed and pre-tested over a four-month
period. Input on the wording of selected questions in Sections B,D,E & G (Appendix 1) was sought from C.
van der Vyver (former South African Predator Association [SAPA] CEO), and there was also some
collaboration with L. Rall (Durrell Institute of Conservation [DICE], University of Kent).

The survey was created and administered using SurveyMonkey, and was translated into English and
Afrikaans. The questionnaire was initially distributed via email invitation among potentially suitable
research participants identified by SANBI, DEA, and SAPA. A hardcopy is also available to members of
SAPA who don’t wish to complete the survey online (to date, no hardcopy of the questionnaire has been
completed, but SAPA will assist with identifying these members and collecting their responses). The
survey will remain open until a suitable closing date is determined in 2018. However, the preliminary
survey results presented in this report have identified (i) indicative trends to inform future research, and
(ii) that a bigger sample size is needed (which we will pursue in early 2018).

All protocols were carried out in accordance with the ethical guidelines and recommendations of the
Human Research Ethics Committee (non-medical) of Wits University (Protocol Number H17/06/55).

The interim results presented in this report are for responses captured up to 10th November 2017.

2.2 Analysis of data from multiple information sources


The methods and results for this section are mostly detailed in Williams et al. (2017a) (see Supplementary
Doc 2; and, Appendix 2), but some additional data not provided in that paper are briefly listed in this
report. CITES export permit data indicate the total quantity that specific export permits were issued for;
hence, an exported consignment should not exceed the quantity stated on the permit (Williams et al.
2017a). Actual quantities of legally exported bones can only be deduced from (1) records of CITES permits
that have been inspected and ‘endorsed’ by a nature conservation inspector at the port of exit (for which
we had access to an incomplete set of records), and/or (2) from the air waybills (AWB) generated by
freight forwarding companies, and/or (3) from records kept by the exporting traders (Williams et al.
2017a). Data supplied by a freight forwarding company from the AWBs for 2014–2016 was with the
consent of their customers (i.e. six of the main traders of lion bones in South Africa, who buy bones from
farms and hunting facilities), and these data contained: (i) combined monthly totals of the sets of bones
exported, (ii) the mass of the consignments, and (iii) the destination countries in East-Southeast Asia.

To estimate the maximum allowable levels of legal annual trade in lion bones, all CITES data were
rigorously cross-checked against the annual reports submitted by South Africa to the CITES Secretariat (as
detailed in Williams et al. 2017a). Where anomalies were discovered, appropriate adjustments were
made. To date, however, we have not had access to the 2016 CITES reports to the Secretariat.


In October, the DEA provided us with some data relating to the quota applications received during 2017.
These provided us with useful information on the current sources of bones for export.

2.2.3 OTHER

In May 2017, we met with a representative group (i.e. most) of the lion bone intermediary traders and
exporters and gained significant contextual information (i.e. qualitative data) on the history and structure

of the bone export industry (some of which is included in Williams et al. 2017a). We have taken this
background information into account both in planning our future research and in this interim assessment.

2.3 Monitoring of muthi markets for lion products

The muthi market monitoring project was initiated in January 2017 by VLW and is ongoing; the first
sampling phase will be completed in February 2018. Lion products (mainly skins) are being monitored in
tandem with two other threatened species. Each species has a different set of collaborators from several
institutions (however, the project does not currently involve the collaborator M’TSR).

ToPS (Threatened or Protected Species) permits were obtained from the DEA for all collaborators so that
samples could be legally acquired from vendors. The samples will probably be sent to the laboratory at
the National Zoological Gardens (Pretoria) for DNA testing in 2018. Monitoring is currently occurring in
four South African provinces and one neighbouring country. This component of the research is not SANBI

Read full report: 2017_Interim Report (1)