As wild tiger populations dwindle, poachers are turning to lions to feed the insatiable Chinese appetite for ‘potions’ made from big cat bones. Conservationists are sounding the alarm about a disturbing development in the fight to save wildlife from poaching: Lions are being killed as a substitute for tigers so their bones can be sold as Chinese “remedies.”
While the main threat to African lions at this point is human encroachment (especially poisoning by farmers), Dereck Joubert, a National Geographic filmmaker and writer focusing on big cats, said in today’s Washington Post that African lions are also at risk of becoming commodities in China.
Big cats are in trouble everywhere. The number of tigers has dipped below 3,000. Indeed, as we look at the lion population today, it’s the shadow of the tiger’s history that scares me most. Tiger bones are used extensively in the East for medicines and mythological (read nonsense) cures for ailments or limp libidos, and the demand is increasing. A growing demand and a disappearing supply is a formula for disaster.
The solution we are seeing play out is a switch from tiger bones to lion bones, which can be easily sold off as tiger bones. It’s ironic that the most famous animal in Africa, perhaps in the world, can’t even be poached on its own value but only as a “mock tiger.”
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