Nearly 800 pounds of lion bones bound for Malaysia were seized at South Africa’s main airport, a spokesman for the environment ministry told CNN on Friday.
The shipment, comprised of 12 boxes of bones, was pulled for inspection at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Tuesday because it had not been properly documented, a statement from the ministry said.
“When the shipment was inspected, 12 boxes of lion bones wrapped in aluminum foil and weighing 342 kg were discovered,” the statement said.
Three men — two Zimbabweans and a Congolese man — were arrested in connection with the shipment, environment ministry spokesman Albi Modise told CNN.
Lion bones are used for traditional medicines in Asia, according to the international wildlife charity Born Free Foundation.
Trade in bones of captive-bred lions is legal in South Africa but the suspects had failed to obtain a special permit required for the export, Modise said.
More than 6,000 lion skeletons were exported from South Africa to countries in Asia in the last decade, according to scientists studying the trade.
Between 6,000 and 8,000 lions are bred and held in lion farms in South Africa, although more lions than that are in the wild in the country.
Born Free Foundation said the recent seizure reiterates the need to end the practice.
“Captive-bred lions and other predators are exploited for profit at every stage of their lives. Many of these animals end up being targets for trophy hunters in cruel canned hunts, or being brutally slaughtered so their bones can be exported,” Mark Jones, Born Free’s head of policy, said in a statement.