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June 2010 
Inside this issue ...
Holiday courses!
Culture comes to the vultures
Urban biodiversity?
Dr Emily Lane wins award
Director's comment
New arrival at Emerald Animal World
Stringent measures protect King penguins
NZG staff master penguin conservation skills
Maintaining an inland marine aquarium can be challenging!
First genetic assessment of pangolins in SA
Outbreak of deadly primate disease controlled
NZG hosts wildlife medicine courses for vets
ZooClub members investigate SA's biomes
Conservation Grapevine
World governments fail to halt biodiversity loss
Lions targeted for Chinese 'medicines'

 
African lions are at risk of becoming commodities in China.
 
Most at risk is the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), a subspecies of the African lion (Panthera leo) found only in the Gir Forest of India. The Asiatic lion is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and has a current population of just 350 individuals.
 
Chinese 'remedies' for sale. The items on the left are tiger penises (good for stamina) and the items on the right are goat horns. It is also common to see tiger claws.
Lions targeted for Chinese 'medicines'

As wild tiger populations dwindle, poachers are turning to lions to feed the insatiable Chinese appetite for 'potions' made from big cat bones.

Conservationists are sounding the alarm about a disturbing development in the fight to save wildlife from poaching: Lions are being killed as a substitute for tigers so their bones can be sold as Chinese "remedies".

Most at risk is the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), a subspecies of the African lion (Panthera leo) found only in the Gir Forest of India. The Asiatic lion is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and has a current population of just 350 individuals.

Although the population is considered stable, a single event, such as disease or forest fire, could result in extinction of this species. And, as we are witnessing with wild tiger and rhino, if poaching increases, this small population is not likely to survive.

There are indications of poaching incidents in recent years (there are reports that organised gangs have switched their attention from tigers to these lions).

The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), warned back in 2007 that a new phase in wildlife poaching to meet Chinese demands could wipe out the world's only Asiatic lion population.

This serious new development points to the fact that since tigers are so scarce in the wild, poachers are now targeting the last remaining population of Asiatic Lions. Gir's lions are an easy target, since they are comparatively used to people and live in open scrub forest. Their bones are also virtually indistinguishable from those of tigers. There is no market for big cat parts in India and their poaching and the trade is entirely driven by demand from outside India's borders for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

Leopards and lions used as substitutes for tiger bones

Also in 2007, environmental photojournalist Debby Ng wrote in Asia! Magazine that both leopards and lions are now used as common substitutes for tiger bones. Ng has worked with TRAFFIC, WWF, WSPA, and EIA.

Ng stated in her article that according to Valmik Thapar, conservationist and one of the world's leading experts in Indian tigers, 12 to 14 Asiatic lions were poached within six months in Gir National Park. Thapar said that poaching for the Chinese tiger trade was confirmed by the fact that only the bones were removed from the dead lions - just as in the case of tigers killed for Chinese "potions".

Even earlier, Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh, a wildlife biologist with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, and WWF-India, reported in 2004 that Gir's Asiatic lions were being killed by villagers working in conjunction with poachers.

In April 2004, a lion was found in the Dedakadi forest range near the Gir headquarters at Sasan, with its right paw nearly ripped off - a sure sign of the use of a leg-hold jaw trap, which is commonly used to kill tigers. Soon officials detected organised poaching of lions, and there were reports of bones being removed from carcasses. It came to light that tribal poachers from Madhya Pradesh disguised as agricultural labourers were killing the lions. Suspicion pointed persistently to the traditional Chinese medicine business as it is difficult to differentiate bones of lions from those of tigers.

While the main threat to African lions at this point is human encroachment (especially poisoning by farmers), Dereck Joubert, a National Geographic filmmaker and writer focusing on big cats, has said in an article in Washington Post earlier this year that African lions are also at risk of becoming commodities in China.

Big cats are in trouble everywhere. The number of tigers has dipped below 3 000. Tiger bones are used extensively in the East for medicines and mythological cures for ailments or limp libidos, and the demand is increasing. A growing demand and a disappearing supply is a formula for disaster.

The solution playing out is a switch from tiger bones to lion bones, which can be easily sold off as tiger bones.

Heed the warning - before it is too late for lions

Sadly, one only needs to look at the decline in wild tiger and rhinoceros populations to see that CITES protections are not enough to deter poachers. Commercial poaching has become big business - thanks to the boom in population and the "new wealth" in China. And despite being a CITES signatory, Chinese consumption of products derived from endangered species - especially tigers - is flourishing.

There is no doubt that If China does succeed in wiping out our planet's wild tigers, commercial poaching operations - funded by Chinese demand and affluence - will also push lions to extinction.

Source: www.africanconservation.org