Monitoring compliance of CITES lion bone exports from South Africa

Vivienne L. Williams, Peter G. Coals, Marli de Bruyn, Vincent N. Naude, Desiré L. Dalton, Antoinette Kotzé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


From 2008 to 2018, South Africa permitted the export of captive-bred African lion (Panthera leo) skeletons to Southeast Asia under CITES Appendix II. Legal exports rose from approximately 50 individuals in 2008 to a maximum of 1,771 skeletons in 2016, and has led to ongoing concerns over possible laundering of non-lion, multiple-source and wild-sourced bones. South Africa is required under its obligations to CITES to employ mechanisms for monitoring and reporting trade, and to limit the potential for illegal trade and laundering of lion and other large felid bones. Monitoring tools for legal trade are critical to compliance with CITES. Here we evaluate the CITES-compliance procedure implemented by South Africa for export of lion bones and identify six essential general points for consideration in the implementation of animal export quota compliance protocols. We provide specific insight into the South African lion bone export monitoring system through: i) outlining the protocols followed; ii) assessing the utility of cranial morphology to identify species; iii) evaluating skeleton consignment weight as a monitoring tool; and iv) presenting molecular (DNA) species assignment and pairwise-comparative sample matching of individuals. We describe irregularities and illicit behaviour detected in the 2017 and 2018 lion bone quotas. Notably, we report that the compliance procedure successfully identified and prevented the attempted laundering of a tiger (P. tigris) skeleton in 2018. We emphasise the utility of mixed-method protocols for the monitoring of compliance in CITES Appendix II export quota systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0249306
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
VW acknowledges the Africa Oxford (AfOx) Collaboration Fellowship programme in 2019, supported at All Souls College, and hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), for funding and facilities to prepare this manuscript at the University of Oxford. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Williams et al.


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