Lions once roamed free across the grasslands of Africa. These days, only about 20,000 of them are left on the continent – a reduction of approximately 41% from 1993 to 2014. And a turnaround isn’t on the horizon for the majestic beasts, as South Africa now exports up to 1,500 lion skeletons legally every year.
The skeletons sanctioned for sale in South Africa are from lions slaughtered on farms and captive facilities that hold an estimated 8,000 animals. The bones, teeth and claws from the carcasses usually wind up in Southeast Asia where they are used in trinkets and traditional medicine — lion bones are sometimes dropped into rice wine and sold on the black market as tiger bone wine, a local treatment for impotence and rheumatism.
Away from captivity, poaching and other forms of indiscriminate killing remain a threat to the 1,300-1,700 South African lions left in the wild. No wonder the species is now considered vulnerable to extinction.