18 November 2021 – Shocking, previously unreleased footage obtained by global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has revealed widespread big cat farming across South Africa. The footage documents, and supports, estimations as many as 12,000 lions, and an unknown number of tigers, are being intensively farmed in captive facilities across the country. South Africa has become the largest exporter of big cats and their parts in the world over the past decade, and routes to China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand has seen thousands of animals and their parts leaving the country. The trade in big cats and their parts is not discriminatory: all big cat trade is connected and allowing the commercial trade in one species, threatens them all. But FOUR PAWS believes if the Vicious Cycle of big cat exploitation in South Africa is broken, it will have ripple effects worldwide towards protecting all big cats species.
South Africa is the biggest exporter of live big cats to Asia.
"This footage serves as evidence that South Africa is also now intensively breeding tigers for commercial purposes.
South Africa has taken the first step to preventing the commercial breeding and export of lions and their parts. But only by drafting policy and its subsequent implementation can we end the captive lion breeding industry and truly break the vicious cycle of big cat exploitation. Vital to this is also the inclusion of tigers and other big cat species in this protective legislation,"
Fiona Miles, FOUR PAWS Director in South Africa
In the footage, large numbers of tigers are shown to be living in dirty, overcrowded enclosures that prevent the animals from exhibiting natural behaviours, increase their risk of zoonotic disease transmission and cause immense suffering.
The vicious cycle
All big cat trade is interconnected. First, lions and tigers are used in tourism purposes and as attractions in cub petting or 'walk with' opportunities. Then they may be sold for trophy hunting before the live animals, or their bones and other body parts, are sent to Asia to be used in traditional medicine or as breeding stock on Asian tiger farms. It is worth noting that if South Africa supplies an international trade in lion bones there is also a serious risk that it will also be exporting tiger bones. As South African facilities breed both the big cats it makes it very difficult to determine whether the export is legal lion bones or illegal and more lucrative tiger bones. There have already been cases where the bones of both species have been mixed in what was deemed legal exports.
The demand for live big cats and their body parts from South Africa has shown no signs of slowing. Miles says, “If we continue on this trajectory, we will reach a point where big cats will cease to exist other than on farms, behind bars, as a source for traditional medicine, or as luxury items such as items of jewellery or as rugs.”
South Africa to Asia
South Africa is the biggest exporter of live big cats globally. Between 2011 and 2020, 2,402 live lions and 359 tigers were exported from South Africa with the majority of exports destined for Asia. The demand for big cats and their parts from Asia perpetuates the illegal wildlife trade, the fourth biggest criminal activity in the world and must be urgently addressed if we are to protect big cats around the globe.