What's the big deal about the trade in big cats?

This November FOUR PAWS is heading to the biggest international wildlife trade conference to fight for the protection of big cats around the globe.


Every two to three years the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets at the international summit called the Conference of Parties (CoP) to evaluate the protection levels given to different species.

This year (14-25 November) FOUR PAWS is heading to the 19th CITES CoP in Panama to fight for greater regulation on the commercial trade of live big cats and their body parts.

Did you know...

  • Lions and tigers are farmed in their thousands
  • South Africa is the biggest global exporter of big cats and their parts
  • Governments from 184 countries (also known as Parties) are expected to attend CITES CoP19
  • Europe and South Africa are both breaching their agreements as part of CITES by breeding and commercially trading Appendix I (species that are considered the most endangered and threatened with extinction) big cat species
  • South Africa and Europe are exporting large numbers of big cats to Asia, known hotspots for traditional medicine products
  • South Africa has been flagged as a country with breeding facilities of concern that breed big cats by CITES authorities
  • The commercial trade in big cats is legal in most parts of the world – this means they can be kept as pets, exported to Asian countries, bred in captivity and used for interactions and entertainment

Sadly, the line between the legal and illegal big cat trade is not only thin but often blurred. The legal trade refers to the sale of live animals or their body parts which is allowed under national and international legislation. Illegal trade alludes to trade outside of national and international legislation. Whilst CITES allows the trade in plants and animals, people do take advantage of the grey area between the definition of the legal and illegal trades to exploit certain species.

The lack of regulation and enforcement in the big cat trade has resulted in a vicious cycle being created which profits off the animals. Sadly, the legal trade of live big cats acts as a conduit and fuels the illegal trade.

FOUR PAWS is asking for:

  • The South African Government to ban the commercial trade of big cats and their parts and phase out tiger farming
  • A commitment from CITES authorities to investigate concerning facilities in South Africa
  • Trade sanctions for Parties that continue to trade and breed big cats
  • New internationally acknowledged agreements that include all five big cat species together, not separately

In the Lunar New Year of the Tiger, we hope that CITES CoP19 marks a turning point for the regulation and protection of all big cat species worldwide. We will be on site in Panama advocating for the protection of all big cat species in the wild. Key to this protection is changing legislation in key areas such as South Africa.

By stopping the breeding and commercial trade of big cats we can effectively cut the oxygen to the illegal trade and protect big cats for generations to come. If we are to ensure that big cats have a future in the wild, as opposed to solely in captivity, then we must act now and adopt an international big cat agreement.

Read more about our recommendations to make this CITES CoP successful here.

sign up to ban the commercial trade of big cats in South Africa

Animal Charity

Hannah Baker

Head of Communications UK

Hannah heads up the Communications team for FOUR PAWS UK and handles all press and marketing enquiries as well as managing the social media accounts. Having worked in the animal welfare sector for nearly a decade she has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of what we can do to help our animal friends at home and further afield.

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