London, 29th March - Tomorrow night (30th March) households will be introduced to some of the tigers and their owners in the UK. But the global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, is urging the UK Government to capitalize on this attention and the exit from the EU, to strengthen legislation and ban all commercial trade in tigers and their parts. FOUR PAWS estimates that there are 1,600 captive tigers in Europe and 7,000 in the US, this is in stark comparison to the 3,900 currently in the wild. These unprecedented high captive numbers demonstrate the growing business and emergence of a global tiger industry for both live tigers and for their parts. Shockingly for some, the private keeping of tigers is legal in the UK, along with commercial breeding and trade in tiger parts. In fact, the country has the third highest number of documented captive tigers in Europe (123) which includes four private keepers. (1)
Says Kieran Harkin, FOUR PAWS International Head of Wild Animals in Trade: “Allowing for the commercial exploitation of tigers leads to many welfare and conservation issues. With approximately 30,000 captive tigers in the world and only 3,900 in the wild there is a serious discrepancy in how we view the tiger as a species. By encouraging the commercial exploitation of tigers, farming of tigers and trade in live animals and parts, we not only stimulate a demand, but a market.”
Millions watched Joe Exotic and other American private keepers in the Netflix hit show Tiger King last year, but few will have imagined that the UK also has tigers and other big cats kept in private homes. But the UK is not just keeping the animals, it’s trading them too. FOUR PAWS research revealed how the UK was one of the top EU Member States (before UK’s departure from EU) exporting and importing tiger products (2). The 11 exports from the UK of which nine were for commercial purposes, included four skins, one body and two trophies, and the 42 products exported (including one trophy) respectively placed the UK in the two top EU Member States trading in tiger products. Additionally, seizure data shows that between 2014-2018 there were 360 tiger products seized in the UK.
The real scale
Ross Kemp’s show, Britain’s Tiger Kings, is not the first-time private tiger and big cat owners in the UK have appeared in the media. There have been cases concerning public safety and seizures of tiger claws, skins and skulls have been reported in the news, but still little is done to prohibit the legal commercial trade. FOUR PAWS says enough is enough. Harkin adds: “We cannot end the illegal trade in tigers and their parts whilst we allow the private keeping, breeding and trade in captive tigers and their parts. To protect all tigers, we must ensure there is no commercial market and that public exhibits, and trade are strictly controlled”
The commercial trade is legal, and flourishing
Furthermore, while tigers are listed as “Appendix I” animals under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), captive tigers are treated as “Appendix II” animals - meaning that commercial trade in live animal and their parts is allowed. FOUR PAWS has coined the term ‘second-class tigers’ as captive tigers are simply not seen as part of the problem although the evidence is clear that captive tigers supply markets that stimulate greater demand for tigers and their parts across the globe. In response to this evidence FOUR PAWS is calling on the UK Government and those in the EU, to grant captive tigers the same protected status as wild tigers under the international convention of CITES and adapt national legislation to ensure commercial trade of tigers and their parts is banned.
Up close and personal
It is not just about the sale of the animals; the tiger industry also profits from interactions and people paying to get close tigers for selfies and petting. This is viewed as very profitable and means more and more businesses and individuals now want to own and exploit tigers. This increasing commercial demand is why current estimates are now as many as 30,000 tigers being kept in captivity worldwide. Harkin remarks: “Interactions with tigers will never contribute to the conservation of the species although many facilities attempt to dupe paying members of the public to believe otherwise. Facilities or individuals that breed and sell tigers are only interested in profit and never protection of the species.”
Notes to Editors
1 Findings reported in FOUR PAWS report EUROPES SECOND CLASS TIGERS: Revealing the out of control captive tiger numbers and commercial trade. The report found that the Czech Republic had 180 and Germany 164 captive tigers. Full report available here
2 According to the CITES Trade Database