Demand for medicine in Asia fuels poaching of African lions

KWS researcher says killings unnecessarily since there is no scientific proof

In Summary

• Lion and tiger bones in high demand in China and Vietnam for medicinal use and aphrodisiac. 

• The animals according to a new report are breed in captivity and sold to the Asian market.

A lion at Nairobi National Park.
A lion at Nairobi National Park.
Image: FILE

The high demand of lions and tigers' bones for medicinal purposes and aphrodisiac in Asian markets is fuelling their killing.

A research by the World Animal Protection shows that poaching of the animals is on the rise. 

"Lions and tigers' body parts are believed to treat rheumatism, promote strength,  increase sexual vigour, make tiger bone wines and ointments,” World Animal Protection research manager Patrick Muinde said. 

He said bones from lions and tigers are used in traditional Asian medicine found mainly in China and Vietnam.

“Although there’s little to no robust evidence to suggest that these products have any medicinal value, worryingly, the demand for wildlife traditional Asian medicine is growing," Dr Muinde said.

"The factors contributing to this trend include; an increase in people with higher disposable incomes in regions where the products are popular and a lucrative business thriving from the industry,” Muinde said.

The report on tracking cruelty mapped different countries in Africa especially in South Africa where there are breeding firms.

“Lions are kept in captivity in South Africa where you fined around 6,000-8,000 animals in breeding facilities, raising concerns about their welfare. These animals are confined in controlled environments instead of their their natural environment. These are wild animals that are used to travelling long distances. They are used to large territories which cannot be found in the breeding facilities,” he said.

The report found that dealers in South Africa sell lion bones to Asian countries to be used for traditional medicine.

According to Kenya Wildlife Service statistics, there are 2,000 lions left in the country.

“We need to be concerned about this population because if the trend on poaching lions continues, we will not have any more of them,” Muinde said.

The World Health Organization last year recognised traditional medicine as a viable option for treatment and that in a way has led to the increased demand. 

“As the demand for traditional medicine and use of lions and tiger products continues to grow in Asian markets, the numbers of African big cats will continue to plummet due to poaching of endangered species all in the name of traditional Asian medicine whose efficacy has not been confirmed by modern science. This needs to stop,” Muinde said.

Head of captive wildlife management at KWS Francis Gakuya said the report is a wake up call for Kenya.

“Many people are not aware of the breeding of lions and lions and tigers in Africa and Asia. The animals face a lot of  abuses. Fortunately, we don’t have captive breeding in Kenya for purposes of trade. Policies are our guiding principle in conservation. Animals should be conserved in their free range," Gakuya said.

(Edited by P. Wanambisi)