Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, has been a vocal opponent of lion farming and warns that the squalid conditions the big cats are kept under in South African farms could spark a new global health crisis similar to the current coronavirus pandemic.
The 74-year-old has campaigned to expose the practice of lion breeding at 333 South African farms where the animals are butchered and their skeletons sold for Chinese medicine, wines and jewellery.
His book claims lions are ‘deboned’ while still alive to give the bones a lucrative “pink colour” due to blood remaining in the bones.
He alleges that the dirty conditions the animals live in risk the animals contracting fatal diseases including tuberculosis and botulism which can then be passed to humans.
Lord Ashcroft writes: “So are we sleep-walking straight into a new major public health crisis with the lion bone industry at its core? I fear we are.
“It could be a surge in a disease that already exists, or it could be a new and frightening infection, just like Covid-19 was.”
There is no evidence to support Lord Ashcroft’s claims that lion bones could spark something on the same scale as the coronavirus pandemic.
In a discussion with The Sun, Dr Peter Caldwell, a wildlife vet, said he shares Lord Ashcroft’s concerns of diseases spreading from animals to humans.
He highlights botulism as a concern as the disease, which attacks the nervous system, could spread to people via infected bones and skin.
He said: “If that lion dies from botulism, the people who bred it won’t waste that animal by burying it or burning it. Instead, they will put it into the lion bone and skin trade.
“And the toxin remains in the body, so the people who utilise that lion can die a miserable, painful death.”
Lord Ashcroft’s book suggests 12,000 lions are bred in captivity in South Africa, while just 3,000 exist in the wild – while the bones of the beasts are believed to be worth up to £3,200 when sold.