Big cats under threat as demand for bones wine, traditional medicine rises

Lions kept in cages farms in poor conditions for the production of bone wines and traditional medicine in Asian countries. [Photo, Courtesy]

Lions in Kenyan parks and conservancies are suspected to be among those killed or poached and illegally trafficked to South Africa.

Through an organised crime syndicate, the lions end up in South Africa, which is the leading exporter of lion and tiger bones to Asian countries, where they are then used to make traditional medicines.

Research by the World Animal Protection (WAP), titled Trading Cruelty: How Captive Big Cat Farming Fuels the Traditional Asian Medicine Industry, revealed that lions and tigers around the world are being poached from the wild.

Patrick Muinde, a research manager at WAP, said the demand for lion and tiger bones for the manufacture of traditional medicines in Asian countries has fuelled the unlawful killing and poaching of these big cats in Africa.

He said Kenya could be one of the affected countries, though there is limited information linking poaching in Kenya to the illegal trade in South Africa.

"Lions are surely being trafficked from other African countries and feeding to this illegal trade in South Africa. This is for their body parts and bones, which are used in products believed to treat rheumatism, promote strength and increase sexual vigour. Some are used to make tiger bone wines and ointments," said Dr Muinde, who was behind the report.

Tennyson Williams, WAP Africa's director, explains that in Asia, lions and tigers are confined in rows of bare and barren battery-style cells.

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Wildlife trade

“The big cats, such as lions, tigers, and leopards, are being mistreated to feed the illegal wildlife trade. Before they are killed and their body parts used in traditional medicine, these wild animals are subjected to various forms of cruelty,” he said.

He added that animals are voiceless, so they need people to speak out for them.

Mr Williams wondered why traditional medicine, whose efficacy is yet to be certified by scientific research, has such high demand.

Festus Tolo, the principal research scientist at Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), said Kenyans consume traditional medicine made from herbs and plants.

"As a research organisation, at Kemri we are yet to see where animals are used in traditional medicines in Kenya as happens in most Asian countries," Dr Tolo said.

Williams said WAP is pushing for a complete ban on using wildlife products for medicine.  

Pauline Wanja, who works at the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, said it is carrying out a comprehensive review on wildlife protection and conservation.

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Big catsLionsPoachersWAPSouth Africa