As Tigers Go Extinct, Chinese Medicine Switches to Lions

Lions are losing out in South Africa, whether through trade in legally-sourced lion bones, illegal poaching or trophy hunting. However you look at it, they can’t win.

That’s because there has been a surge in the popularity of lion bones.

Since 2008, by which time there had been a huge drop in the number of tigers in the wild, traders from countries such as China and Vietnam have been taking an interest in South African lions. Chinese medicine has traditionally used the powdered bones of tigers to cure many illnesses, such as rheumatism, ulcers and stomach aches. Tiger bones have also been credited with boosting virility in men. Apparently, now that the tiger population is waning, lions will do the trick.

Impact of Chinese Medicine

From The Guardian:

Despite the lack of scientific proof this potion is very popular, so with tiger bones increasingly scarce, vendors are replacing them with the remains of lions. Traders soon realised that South Africa could be a promising source. It is home to 4,000 to 5,000 captive lions, with a further 2,000 roaming freely in protected reserves such as the Kruger national park. Furthermore such trade is perfectly legal.

Never mind that the population of lions in Africa overall is in steep decline. If those traders want lion bones, they’ll apparently find a way.

In South Africa, lion bones are selling for around $165 per kilo (2.2 pounds). That’s about $5,000 for a full skeleton. The skull is worth another $1,100, the Guardian reports.

Everyone’s making money from the lions: recently South African officials reported an increase in the number of permits they’re issuing for export of lion bones from certified trophy dealers. This means that tourists come to the country and pay big money to take part in a controlled hunt, but if they don’t want to keep the body or bones of the lion, the breeders can strip the lion and sell its bones for a handsome profit to Chinese and Southeast Asian dealers.

There is the legally sanctioned trade, and then there are the illicit activities. One investigator told the Guardian he estimates that the legal market only contributes half of the lion bones currently leaving the country: poaching is responsible for the rest.

What Can Be Done?

Last December, South African officials signed an agreement with the Vietnamese government to prevent and discourage poaching. Under the agreement, there would be cooperation between law enforcement in the two countries, and a mutual compliance to enforce international poaching laws within both countries.

This agreement targets rhinos specifically, since South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the world’s rhino population, while Vietnam is one of several Asian countries with a high demand for rhino horn. Clearly, this agreement should focus on lions as well as rhinos.

In six months’ time South Africa’s Johannsburg airport will have 16 dogs trained to detect the smell of lion bones, compared with only two at present.

And a Care2 petition asking the government to stop canned lion hunting last year garnered almost 7,000 signatures.

These are all important steps forward.

As with the issue of rhino poaching, there are two schools of thought: should South Africa push for a “decent” and “responsible” trade in lion bones to feed the surging demand in Asia, rather than risk losing its wild lion populations to poaching?

Or, as conservationist Karen Trendler, the co-ordinator of the Rhino Response Strategy, believes, should the trade in lion bones be extinguished entirely? As she puts it:

“When lion bone was first mentioned, everyone nearly fell off their chairs and expressed revulsion and horror.

“Now it is being discussed in the same vein as rhino horn and the debate on whether and how to supply the market. It is becoming more mainstream and unacceptable… We don’t know what this market is, it’s going into a bottomless pit.”

What do you think?


Related Care2 Coverage

Africa’s Lions In Steep Decline

Care2 Success! S. Africa, Vietnam, Unite To Fight Rhino Poaching

13-Year-Old Boy Saves Kenya’s Lions And Cows


Photo: Roo Reynoldsflickr

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Cheyenne Preston
Cheyenne Prestonabout a year ago

we are supposed to coexist, not kill our fellow inhabitants of this planet

K H.
K H.1 years ago

...Oh my God. I came on here to comment about the need to crack down on poaching and hunting, but so many of these's just heartbreaking. "The Chinese are evil/backwards/horrible/uncivilized people, they should eat themselves, we should drop a nuclear bomb on the Chinese"....? What the hell is this?? Isn't this website "Care2" supposed to be about everyone working together to find ways to help each other and the world have a better existence? Dehumanizing an entire ethnic group of people, insulting them, wanting to get rid of them, lumping them all together into some sort of "subhuman" category? I'm not even sure how to respond to this. I am lost for words. I feel like I want to cry. If any Chinese people have seen this article and the attached comments, I am really sorry that you had to see such a disgusting display of hateful racism and ignorance. I have been a member of Care2 for over 10 years, and for the first time I am now thinking maybe I shouldn't come here anymore.

Pilar Cabrera
Pilar Cabrera2 years ago


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

superstition, belief in magic, religion.. its all KILLING our world

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Ernie Miller
william Miller2 years ago

Idiots. that is all I can say anything for a fast buck. No science needed just a bizarre belief

Angela L.
angela l.2 years ago

I don't care what the stupid, stubborn Chinese believe, but to take another life to cure one's own problem is absolutely SELFISH!!!!! It's just an excuse of doing something evil. There are so much natural herb that can cure all various diseases as well, and those who don't depend on animals product still live, even healthier. I'm a living proof!!!! Humans are basically evil minded, there's nothing wrong with animals, it's the humans who created all sorts of trouble in this world. They kill and eat animals, then again kill some more for medicine to cure disease from eating meat, this stupid nonsense idea goes around in circle and yet they never find a perfect solution - humans' stupidity and stubborness.

Waheeda S.
Waheeda S.2 years ago

These poor animals can't catch a break. :(

Diane K.
Diane K.2 years ago

I don't believe this Chinese remedy is really a help. It's only superstitious, unlike acupuncture, and causes poachers to collect a large sum of money.

Claudia Cavallo
Claudia Cavallo2 years ago

Chinese must change their mind on their old traditions, it's not possible that the victims of their stupid ideas are poor animals that are going exctinct