By Jean Liou
Lion bones have become a hot commodity for their use in Asian traditional medicine, driving up exports from South Africa to the East and creating new fears for the survival of the species.
Conservationists are already angry over lion trophy hunting.
The skeletons are mostly shipped to Vietnam and Laos, feeding conservationists' fears that the market will drive up lion poaching — just as the illegal hunting of rhinos escalates for their horns, also popular in Asian traditional remedies.
"Suddenly, and very recently, there are a great number of people from Laos who have a big interest for trophy hunting. And that had never happened in the whole history of Laos!" said Pieter Kat from conservation NGO LionAid.
Around 500 lions are hunted legally every year in South Africa, most of them from commercial lion breeding farms which also supply zoos all over the world.
Until recently hunters paid $20,000 (16,000 euros) just for a trophy to hang above the fireplace, and the carcass was thrown to the dogs.
But their crushed bones have become popular as substitute for the bones of tigers in love potions or "tiger wine." Trade in tiger parts is banned under international law as the animal is a threatened species.
Now Asian hunters buy lion trophy hunting permits to get at the bones.
"They prefer hunting lionesses, whose $4,000 price tag is more affordable than the males," Kat told AFP. More....