VILLAGERS around the Hwange wildlife conservancy area are reported to be illegally working with Chinese poaching cartels to exhume lion skeletons whose bones are processed into top quality wine fetching up to $20,000 a bottle.
The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce, Johnny Rodrigues, confirmed the development, Wednesday.
He said the lion bones had a lucrative market in Asia, adding this has motivated villagers around the Hwange to exhume skeletons that were buried after trophy hunting.
“The illegal trade started around 2012 but it has since picked up. It is being coordinated by a Chinese woman known as Lin Sun,” Rodrigues said.
He said there was an easy link between the poachers and middlemen to sell the bones, a link which he said the police and other government departments were aware of.
Because of high returns in the illegal trade, Rodrigues explained, the poachers were now targeting female lions and cubs, which are not part of the lucrative male trophy hunting.
The harvested skeletons are reported to be sold to Chinese traders in Johannesburg or Durban in South Africa where they fetch between $1,260 and $1,560 without a skull or $1,890 to $2,100 with a skull, depending on the size.
Rodrigues’ claims are supported by a joint report compiled by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the international wildlife monitoring network, Traffic.
The report, which was carried out soon after the killing of Cecil the Lion in July, noted that things could get worse for the lions if nothing was done to stop the illegal trade.
Reports say there is significant evidence that lions are being poached for their bones and skins in Zimbabwe and Tanzania as the growth of the lion bone trade in Asia has generated a previously unexploited value for female lions and their cubs.
The report said the interest in lion bones was as a result of an acute decline in tiger bones for the same purpose of producing tiger wine. The lion bones are now filling the gap and boosting the Asian trade.
The lion bones are reported to have a ready market in Vietnam, China and Make where they are boiled and bottled and processed into wine.
Efforts to get comment from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority were unsuccessful.