WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGE: Lions hacked to death for traders in body parts
Lions are being killed in South Africa for their body parts, and pleas have been directed to the government to stop the legal lion-bone trade.
On Thursday, three lions were found poisoned and mutilated at Turffontein Farm near Polokwane.
Police spokesman Motlafela Mojapelo said two male lions had their heads and paws cut off. The third, a female, was not cut.
"The motive for the latest incident is not known," he said.
Kelly Marnewick, manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's carnivore conservation programme, said: "We are very concerned about the increase in poaching incidents of lions.
"These incidents appear to be linked to the trade in their body parts. We do not have a good understanding of the trade in lion parts and what drives it.
"However, it is clear that poaching is an increasing threat to lions and needs to be urgently addressed."
Similar killings have been reported on privately owned properties at Marble Hall, Tzaneen, and Thabazimbi.
In June last year, two white lions were killed in their shelter at the Tzaneen Lion and Predator Park at the Letaba River Lodge. Three men were arrested near Phalaborwa with the remains of one of the white lions.
Two weeks ago, the park's owner, Andre de Lange, reported a grisly scenario that greeted workers when they reported for duty. Three male lions had been killed at the park. Their legs and heads had been hacked off.
De Lange said he believed it had been an inside job because the poachers had to cut through three wire fences and bypass an advanced alarm system.
In a newsletter this week, the private Environmental Investigation Agency said any proposed legal trade would have disastrous consequences for the protection of the last remaining tigers in the wild, as well as the conservation of Africa's lions and other big cats.
"EIA is appalled that South Africa has made a proposal known that it intends to export the skeletons of 800 African lions a year into a trade that stimulates consumer demand for the bones of more endangered big cats," the newsletter said.
The Department of Environmental Affairs, in conjunction with the South African National Biodiversity Institute, held a meeting in Pretoria last week with executives of the South African Predator Association, nature conservation officials and other concerned parties to discuss the problem.
This week the IFP said it was "extremely concerned" by the government's export plan.
One of the three lions that were found poisoned near Polokwane this week. The heads and paws of two males were cut off. Photo Supplied
The party's spokesman on environmental affairs, Narend Singh, said: "Many species in South Africa are under threat due to the insatiable demand by Asian markets for pseudo-medical-magical commercial products which have no scientific or rational basis and are nothing but quackery.
"Yet our government continues to legitimise and assist in developing such markets for the profit and benefit of a few wealthy local farmers, at the expense of the welfare of our animals, and the people of South Africa."
Department spokesman Albi Modise told Bloomberg: "An export permit will only be granted when a scientific authority has advised that it won't be detrimental to the survival of the species."
He said the export quota for captive lions might help prevent the poaching of wild lions as demand surged. There were also similar initiatives by countries like India and Russia to better protect tigers.
"Well-regulated trade will enable the department to monitor a number of issues, including the possible impact on the wild populations," said Modise.
In a report published last year, Panthera, WildAid and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit said there were only 20,000 lions left in Africa, 43% fewer than two decades ago.
Between 2008 and 2014, the bones of more than 4900 African lions, both wild and captive, were sent from South Africa to Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China.