Lion conservation and the lion bone trade in South Africa: On CITES, shifting paradigms,"sustainable use" and rehabilitation

Harry Wels, Jason Turner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In lion conservation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and Trade Records Analyses of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC) are considered key United Nations (UN) institutions for “science-based decisions” on global policy formulation for conservation and combating wildlife crime.

CITES, but probably also TRAFFIC and IUCN, still adheres to and operates in the paradigm of the “sustainable use” of animals, based on the long leading philosophical Cartesian paradigm in academia that premises that humans and animals differ in kind, and that animals do not “feel” and have the neurological capacities to think like us. But this Cartesian worldview can no longer withstand the latest scientific evidence, developments, and new insights that show how people and animals only differ in degree and not in kind. The concept of “sustainable use” of wildlife, including lions, therefore needs to be rethought in the light of this new paradigm.

In South Africa, the “sustainable use” of lions includes the trade in lion’s bones from captive lions, which was legalized in 2016. The Wildlife Animal Protection Forum of South Africa (WAPFSA) appealed against this legalized trade, based on rational arguments that fit CITES and its Cartesian approach to animals but also on the paradigm shift where humans and animals are no longer considered different in kind but only in degree. This paradigm shift has led to initiatives to try and suggest possible ways forward for a political order that matches this “new normal.” Probably the most developed in this context is the concept of “zoopolis,” which is explored in this article. The four “vulnerabilities” on which the concept is based were all found to be relevant to lion conservation and fighting wildlife crime in South Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-314
Number of pages12
JournalThe Oriental Anthropologist
Issue number2
Early online date13 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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