All big cats need protection
South Africa has recently announced its plans to immediately halt the domestication and exploitation of lions, and close captive lion facilities. While this is a positive step from Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, it is not enough. There are other big cat species in South Africa, native and exotic, that are being exploited and whose populations are at risk across the globe. All big cat trade is connected. FOUR PAWS will be closely monitoring South Africa’s Environment Ministry legislative process in the coming years and advocate to include all big cat species in the new policy.
A growing industry exploiting the world’s most iconic wild animals
The exploitation of big cats in South Africa continues to grow and includes not only indigenous species such as lions and leopards, but also exotic species like tigers and jaguars. It's estimated that 12,000 lions are being intensively farmed in captive facilities across South Africa. In the case of tigers, the number is unknown; the South African authorities were unable to tell us following a series of PAIA (Freedom of Information) requests, but South African NGOs estimate totals of up to 1,500.
The demand for big cats has meant they are now intensively bred and commercially traded in vast numbers across the globe:
- Legally: the commercial trade means they can be bred in captivity and exploited for profit (for interactions, kept as pets, trophy hunting or for entertainment)
- Illegally: South Africa is contributing to an illegal trade by supplying live animals to breeding farms in Asia and trading parts for traditional medicines
South Africa’s role in the global big cat trade
South Africa is farming numerous big cat species for the commercial international trade and is one of the biggest exporters of big cats and their parts to Asia. The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest criminal activity in the world, and it is being fuelled by the trade in big cat products from South Africa. This is driving consumer demand, largely from Asia, for their parts.
Business in the age of mass extinction
All five big cat species (lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard) are threatened by unprecedented human influence, including trade, habitat loss and wildlife conflict. This is leading to the rapid decline in big cats and contributing to a global biodiversity crisis