(Bloomberg) -- South Africa is working out what to do with the world’s biggest captive lion population and more than 3,000 skeletons as it tries to end a trade in the big cats and their products. 

The government is considering approaching lion owners with a view to paying them to surrender, euthanize or sterilize the 7,838 lions they own and buying and burning the 3,163 lion skeletons they own, Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said Wednesday, citing the findings of a task team she appointed. 

The government wants to bring to an end the practice of lion breeding, which has damaged the country’s reputation for conservation.

First the lions were bred and then released in confined spaces for hunters to shoot for a fee. When authorities clamped down on that, the breeders began shipping the bones to East Asia, where they are used as a substitute for tiger bones, which are believed by some people to have medicinal properties.

South Africa has “exceptional biodiversity,” she said in a statement. “With this rich endowment comes the responsibility and challenge of ensuring our species and ecosystems are conserved and used sustainably.”

The audit, carried out by the task team, also determined that South African breeders own 626 tigers. The species is not native to Africa.

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