Windhoek — Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta has said that anyone found in possession of lion bones would be fined up to N$1 million, or serve a 10-year jail term.
Namibia's lion population currently stands at a meager 700, with the bulk of the big cats found in Etosha National Park.
Shifeta said in terms of the Controlled Wildlife Products and Trade Amendment Bill currently before the National Council for review, the penalty is very high.
The Bill proposes that the fine for illegal possession of controlled wildlife products be increased from N$20,000 to N$15 million and that the imprisonment period be increased from five years to 15.
It also proposes that the fine for illegal trading in controlled wildlife products be increased from N$200,000 to N$25 million and the imprisonment period be increased from 20 years to 25.
The fine for non-compliance with regulations will be increased from N$8,000 to N$100,000 and the imprisonment period from two to 10 years.
His comments come in the wake of South Africa's proposed legalisation of the export of 800 lion skeletons a year, which critics say would stimulate demand for tiger body parts and derivatives - and further endanger wild tigers.
The South African quota for lion bone export followed a 2016 decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to permit the country to sell lion parts.
Shifeta could not rule out the possibility of Namibia's lion population being endangered due to South Africa's proposed export of 800 lion skeletons a year. "Such sales are endangering the lion population in South Africa. It can be here, as well that the lion bones are being traded. That's why we will not allow anyone to be possession of such products," he said.
He warned that anyone found in possession of lion and cheetah bones, or their hides would be indicted, saying it's a criminal offence.
"I heard that because of ignorance, people had done that. It should be a warning to people, because ignorance of the law is not an excuse."
Shifeta urged those illegally killing endangered wildlife, such as lions, not to give local communities of the meat, warning that if they are found with such meat or bones, they will face prosecution.
He said some people were in possession of such products in their homes for mere pride - without knowing that these bones and skin are tradable. He thus cautioned everyone in possession of lion, leopard and cheetah hides and bones to apply for permits, detailing how they acquired such products.
Regarding the lions that were illegally killed and other predators gunned down in Omusati Region, Shifeta explained that as it was on a conservancy, thus the meat and other products were taken to the traditional authorities to be kept as evidence.
South Africa allows both lion and tiger farming for commercial trade in animal parts.
There are presently between 6,000 and 8,000 lions in captive facilities, as well as 280 tigers in 44 facilities in that country. Between 2005 and 2015 more than 4,000 lion skeletons were exported from South Africa, most likely passed off as tiger products to unsuspecting Asian customers.
According to a study just released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the proliferation of lion and tiger farms in South Africa and the associated trade undermines enforcement efforts to end the illegal tiger trade and stimulates demand for tiger parts and derivatives.
As tigers are not indigenous to South Africa, there is either a lack of, or weak regulation regarding the trade in tiger body parts, it notes. "Given consumer preference for wild-sources tiger parts, this also sustains poaching pressure on wild tigers."
With the proposed legalisation of lion skeleton exports, the report says, there is also a serious risk of tiger bone, teeth and claws from South Africa being laundered and exported as lion specimens, using CITES export permits.