The lion bone trade and its health risks (11/2018)

In 2018 the South African Government permitted the annual export of 800 lion skeletons from captive bred lions. The majority of these are sent to Asia, to be manufactured into tiger wine. Lion bones have been used as a substitute for tiger bones since the tiger became endangered.

Not only is the trade of lion bones cruel and has no part in conservation, it might very well pose serious health risks for humans too. 

Linda Park, Director of Voice4Lions, believes that there is a substantial risk for humans from tuberculosis (TB) carried by lions and therefore also present in their bones. This view is supported by renowned scientist Professor Paul van Helden, Stellenbosch University. According to Prof. van Helden “It should be noted that the organism that most commonly causes lion TB is Mycobacterium bovis (which causes bovine TB). This differs very slightly from the species most often causing human TB. Unfortunately, this organism has the propensity to cause TB in humans often in organs other than the lung, making it very difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, it is inherently resistant to one of the four most important drugs (antibiotics) used to treat primary human TB. Treatment of humans with this form of TB is therefore compromised. I am therefore of the opinion that uncontrolled exposure of humans to bones from animals, in particular lion bones, poses a risk for development of the form of TB known as bovine TB in particular, although not necessarily being limited to this form of TB only.”

The most significant health risk applies to those that handle lion carcasses and bones such as farm labourers, who prepare a carcass immediately after it has been hunted or euthanised.

However, it may also affect other participants in the industry (i.e. taxidermists, customs officers etc.) There is also the issue that once a person catches TB it can lie dormant for a number of years whilst it multiplies in the body. Once the disease is activated, patients are likely to infect other members of their family as well as friends or anyone they may be in contact with since the disease is normally passed from human to human via the respiratory system.

Without treatment, tuberculosis can be fatal. Untreated active disease typically affects the lungs, but especially bovine TB can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. Examples of tuberculosis complications include spinal pain, joint damage, meningitis, liver or kidney problems and heart disorders.

The full report can be read here:

Main image courtesy of Dirk Palfalusi