Lion, tiger & jaguar bone processing could shift from end market countries in the Far East to source nations: UNODC

While most lion and jaguar bones being trafficked are not sourced from wild populations, this could change, the 2024 World Wildlife Crime Report flagged

Vintage engraving of tiger, lion and jaguar. Credit: iStock

The processing of lion, tiger and jaguar bones could shift from countries in the Far East, where they usually arrive after being trafficked, to the countries where they are sourced — within Asia, Africa and Latin America, the 2024 World Wildlife Crime Report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on May 13, 2024, warned.

“At present, it appears that most processing of big cat bones into medicinal products takes place in end market countries, with high value placed on demonstrating the authenticity of raw materials,” the document stated.

However, there were some early indications of a possible trend to processing closer to source, it said. This was particularly true for products that might be easier to traffic, particularly paste or glue made by boiling bones in hot water and eventually used in crude form or as an ingredient in medical preparations.

The analysis noted that there was evidence of such processing of lion bone in South Africa according to a 2018 national police report,

Jaguar bones were being similarly processed in Suriname in South America, according to academic research carried out in 2017-2018.

“It is currently unclear whether such production is primarily for domestic use by locals or expatriates from Asia, or destined for export, but it does represent a potential trafficking innovation to keep under scrutiny,” the report said.

Other worries

The warning comes even as South Africa’s Environment Minister Barbara Creecy announced in a press conference in Cape Town on April 3 that the country would end the captive breeding of lions for a variety of reasons including trophy hunting and usage of bones as substitute for tigers in traditional Chinese medicine.

Read ‘Blood Lions’ no more as South Africa to stop captive breeding of big cats for trophy hunting, traditional medicine

Lion and jaguar bones have been substituted for those belonging to tigers in the past, according to the report.

“Several studies have been published in the last few years, particularly under the auspices of CITES, that document the persistence of markets for jaguar parts in South America, for lion parts within Africa, and a diverse range of big cat parts in Asia,” it noted.

Big cat bones were primarily destined for medicinal use in East and South-East Asia. “Medicinal demand mainly focuses on the use of tiger bone, but overt or covert substitution of bones from other big cat species is not uncommon, whether simply to bolster supply, to confuse regulators or to diversify the offer to consumers,” the analysis stated.

It also flagged that while most lion, leopard and jaguar bones being trafficked were not sourced from wild populations, this could change. This was because of the recent drop in availability of large quantities of lion bone from captive sources.

Two of the largest big cat species — lions and tigers — have been increasingly farmed since the early 1990s. This development happened as supply from wild populations declined due to a combination of population declines, hunting bans and increasing restrictions on commercial international trade from wild sources.

There are over 12,000 tigers in captive facilities worldwide and around 8,000 lions in captivity in South Africa alone.

In the light of these figures, there is potential accumulation of carcasses and body parts from deceased animals.

“Leakage and intentional trade of such parts from tiger farms already contributes to bone trafficking flows and with the cessation of legal lion bone exports, there is a clear risk of similar problems,” said the report.

For instance, 12 boxes of lion bones were seized in South Africa in 2019 reportedly prior to shipping to Malaysia. There was also a significant seizure in Vietnam in 2021 of 3.1 tons of lion bone from South Africa, shipped along with 138 kg of rhinoceros horn.

“These examples may indicate that farmed stocks stranded at source are being sought by traffickers,” said the report, which has been published earlier in 2016 and 2020.

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