2022 – The Chinese Year of the Tiger – marks 12 years since world leaders aimed to double wild tiger populations.
More than a decade later, captive tiger numbers have soared due to a multimillion-dollar tiger and big cat industry.
South Africa is intensively breeding lions, tigers, and other big cats for commercial trade in live animals and their body parts.
There are hundreds of "farms" in South Africa that actively breed four of the big cat species (tiger, lion, leopard, and jaguar). The trade is primarily to Asian countries where there is a strong demand for big cat body parts to be used as luxury items or for traditional medicines, contravening international agreements.
The lack of effective regulations for the keeping and breeding of all big cats in South Africa, and the existence of a legal lion bone trade, has allowed a somewhat legal industry to flourish while also acting as a conduit for an illegal trade.
South Africa needs to end the commercial breeding of all big cats and the export and commercial trade in live animals and parts. To achieve this, the following actions need to be taken:
- A "Grandfather Clause" (i.e., transitional provisions) be introduced where current owners can keep the animals but must stop all breeding and let the animals live out their lives in as natural way as possible with their needs and welfare met.
- Increase detection and law enforcement efforts in respect of big cat parts smuggling at key entry and exit points within South Africa.
- Increase detection and law enforcement efforts in respect of killing and processing of big cats for traditional medicines at private facilities.
- Increase awareness among key stakeholders such as customs, police and other enforcement agencies, airlines, and shipping companies regarding the modus operandi of wildlife trafficking syndicates.
Need for international action
The report highlights the need for global change if we are to reverse the demise of the world's big cat population and protect each species from commercial exploitation and illegal trade.
International CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Decisions and Resolutions should be taken up and turned into national legislation that protects captive big cats.
Long-term, new international agreements need to be developed to include all 5 big cat species together, not separately, as they currently do.
In honor of the Year of the Tiger, we raise awareness about the demise of these much-loved species and advocate for the urgent protection of all big cats.