CITES ANALYSIS: Lions one of the few losers at CoP17

The recently confirmed CITES ban in commercial trade of products made from the bone of wild lions does nothing to address  the lion bone market being propped up by the killing of captive raised lions – principally in South Africa. PHOTO: © IFAW/J. KinneyThe CITES Conference of the Parties has had a number of high-profile successes for animals—defeating bad proposals in the case of rhinos and  elephants, and making real strides in new protections for species such as pangolins, African grey parrots, Barbary macaques, sharks and rays.

From where I stand, lions stand out as one of the biggest lost opportunities.

Going into the 17th Conference of the Parties, a coalition of ten African range countries had submitted a proposal to transfer all African lions from Appendix II to Appendix I. If it had been successful, lions would have received the strictest global protections possible from international commercial trade.

Instead, a number of pro-trade and pro-trophy hunting countries were able to intervene and keep the proposal from ever being voted on.

After the proposal was held hostage by a pivotal voting bloc, a weak compromise emerged that left all African lions on Appendix II with a ban in commercial trade of products made from the bone of wild lions. While this sounds good, it unfortunately does nothing to address the real problem: an emerging and dangerous lucrative lion bone market being propped up by the killing of captive raised lions – principally in South Africa.

READ: VICTORY! African Lion receives real protections under US Endangered Species Act

More importantly, it leaves the door open for other countries to begin lion farming even as lion trophy hunting is on the decline due to new laws passed in some consumer countries like the US and France in the post-Cecil environment.

Just last week The Guardian newspaper ran a story on a family in South Africa making significant money breeding hundreds of lions in order to boil their corpses and ship their bones to Asia as a substitute for tiger bone in alleged health tonics. An investigative team from the organization Freeland, which works to stop illegal wildlife trafficking in Asia and around the world, broke the story.

We know that the existence of the legal lion skeletal markets like these stimulate demand and provide an incentive and opportunity for laundering parts from poached lions in the wild.

Despite valiant efforts by the champion African range countries, the United States, IFAW, and our partner organizations like Born Free, Humane Society International and the Center for Biological Diversity, we were unable to save the original proposal, and the watered-down compromise passed instead.

The one bright spot is that the compromise did call for South Africa to establish an annual export quota for trade in lion parts from its captive breeding operation. Hopefully this will allow for monitoring and evaluation of the current legal market, and also buy time before the next CoP for animal welfare and conservation groups to further investigate both the illegal and legal markets in lion bone trade. 

With lion populations declining precipitously for a variety of reasons – habitat loss, retaliatory killing from human-lion conflict, and unsustainable trophy hunting – there is no excuse for the CITES parties allowing the lion bone trade to continue and most likely grow over the next three years.  Hopefully the next CITES Conference of the Parties will see fit to institute meaningful protections for African lions from this new threat at that time – before it is too late.

--JF

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