Bone: Any piece of hard, whitish material making up the skeleton of vertebrates. Ok, so we now know the definition of bone. Great. Now, let’s pick a vertebrate totally at random shall we? How about a Lion? Ok, still don’t see where we are going with this? Lion bones. Surely, the only species in the world that could possibly have use for Lion bones, is, that’s right, a Lion. Maybe, but that would be logical and unfortunately, in this instance, the story I am about to tell you is completely devoid of any logic. We now find ourselves in Limpopo National Park, just over the Mozambican border from Kruger Park. It is here, in Limpopo, where a research team has stumbled across four carcasses. Two Nyala, one Warthog and one Impala, each laced with black, granular poison. Lying a few yards away are two lions, fifty-one vultures, three fish eagles, a yellow-billed kite and a giant eagle owl.
As I am sure you have guessed, this is a very bad case of mass poisoning. The bodies of the two lions had not only been dismembered, but their bones and some skin had also been removed, whilst twenty-two vultures were decapitated. Such a discovery is quite abhorrent to say the least. But why? Why had these animals been poisoned, and why have their bones and heads been removed? Because in Asia, due to their use in traditional medicines, the demand for such products is very high indeed. In addition to the poison, snares were also discovered. All of the poisoned carcasses have since been burnt.
This discovery highlights the problems which still face many countries in Africa when it comes to the protection of their wild game species. Wild lions are classed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List and have experienced a 43% reduction in their populations over the last 21 years (3 lion generations). Recently, during the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), wild lions remained listed under Appendix II, with a zero annual export quota for bones, bone pieces, products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth that have been removed from the wild and traded for commercial purposes. However, this does not apply to captive Lion breeders, who have managed to avoid the ban on the trade of any Lion product, with South Africa only required to submit a quota for bone exports from captive breeding facilities.
What does this mean? That the captive breeding bone trade will be allowed to continue indefinitely. The President of the Born Free Foundation, Will Travers, has labelled this as an appalling decision, which leaves the door open for the illegal bone trade. After all, what is the difference between the bone of a wild Lion and a captive Lion? None. It is quite literally impossible to tell the difference! Therefore, this makes the poaching, which has been experienced in Limpopo, easier to conduct and will make the policing of smuggling much more difficult.
So far, 9 African Countries (Niger, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Togo) have attempted to upgrade Lions to Appendix I of CITES, which would offer the species full trade protection. This led to opposition from Lion bone and body part traders and hunting enthusiasts, so, as a compromise, CITES has allowed the trade of captive Lion bones.
The two Lions killed in this incident were both males and around 2 years of age. It is the second poisoning event that has targeted the pride that these lions belonged to. The first incident occurred in July 2014, killing three adult Lions, seven white-backed vultures and a bateleur eagle. However, according to the research team in operation, this is the first time there has been evidence of Lions been targeted for their bones in the park. Over the past 5 years the area has served as something of a hub for rhino and elephant poaching, and it is feared that this new poisoning case could be the beginning of the large-scale poaching of Lions in Limpopo National Park.
Once again it would seem that the protection of our planet’s wildlife has been compromised in order to appease the wants and needs of some humans. Lions require full protection in order for their populations to successfully recover from the pressures they have and are currently facing.
“Compromise is a word found only in the vocabulary of those who have no will to fight.” -Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer
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