SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) has stopped accepting lion bones as cargo since early August, in the light of "increasing concerns around the world".
The airline's role in shipping lion bones was thrust into the spotlight in July, after the release of a report titled The Extinction Business - South Africa's "Lion" Bone Trade, by non-profit organisation Elizabeth Margaret Steyn (EMS) Foundation and animal rights group Ban Animal Trading. The word lion was written in inverted commas, as the authors could not confirm if bones and skeletons exported from the country are limited to only lion bones.
The report said SIA was responsible for transporting all "lion" bones out of South Africa and into South-east Asia.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, SIA said: "Singapore Airlines does not accept the carriage of lion bones as cargo following a review which took into account increasing concerns around the world."
In addition to lion bones, some examples of items not transported by SIA include hunting trophies and shark's fin, among others, its spokesman added.
SIA did not elaborate on what concerns it had taken into account. It is also unclear how long it had been carrying lion cargo.
The authors of the report said they had spent 18 months investigating the international lion bone trade in South Africa.
The body parts of lions are sought after for use in fake medicines and jewellery, mostly in South-east Asia.
In response to queries, Ms Michele Pickover, director of EMS Foundation, said the group cannot reveal the specifics behind its investigations due to the need to protect its sources, but said that it had evidence SIA was the sole airline that carried lion bones as cargo.
She added that SIA's decision to reject lion bones as cargo is a "very significant" decision that would have a large impact, given SIA's role as the only carrier of the bones from South Africa to South-east Asia.
"We welcome the fact that they have taken note of our findings, and appreciate their proactive decision, which hopefully will disrupt this abhorrent trade to some extent," she said.
"It also sets a great example to other airlines to take more ethical decisions when it comes to the international wildlife trade."
According to the joint report, a lion's skeleton would trade at prices ranging from 500 rand (S$47) to 26,000 rand. Countries that imported these bones include Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, and traders would pay for DNA tests on the skeletons to verify if they were lion bones.
The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) allows the trade of lion parts and products from approved captive-bred sources, but the trade of wild lion parts is banned.
The export of farm-bred caged lions is legal in South Africa, with the lion bone export quota for this year set at 1,500 skeletons.
According to a statement by South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs in July, there are approximately 7,000 lions kept in around 260 captive breeding facilities in the country, and another 3,500 lions in the wild.
In response to queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said that there has been no approved import of lion parts and products into Singapore, and that it has not come across the sale of lion bones here.
Among measures that the authority adopts in tackling illegal wildlife trade in Singapore are regulating and monitoring the industry, educating the public, and working with local enforcement agencies to detect and deter illegal wildlife cases.
Anyone convicted of importing, exporting and re-exporting Cites specimens without a Cites permit can face jail time of up to two years and a fine of up to $500,000.
The AVA added that weeding out illegal wildlife trade would require the concerted efforts of all stakeholders.
Its spokesman said: "The fight goes beyond Singapore, and strong cooperation at the bilateral, regional and international levels is necessary."
A spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) arm in Singapore said that SIA's move to reject the shipping of lion bones underscores the importance of the transport industry in closing all possible channels that enable the illegal wildlife trade, and that industry-wide action to adopt such policies would ensure illegal traders do not simply switch from one airline to the other.
The spokesman added: "Implementing policies against wildlife trade are a way that transport and logistics businesses can ensure that they have no part to play in supporting a trade linked to criminal syndicates."