13 June 2023 – The captive big cat industry, that includes the keeping and trade of native species like lions and leopards, as well as non-native species such as tigers and jaguars, is a highly lucrative business in South Africa. Global animal welfare organisation, FOUR PAWS, is calling for a ban on the commercial trade of all big cats from the country. While legislative change is crucial, public support, awareness and ethical decision making is equally vital. Facilities that offer interactions with wild animals do so for profit. By rejecting exploitative forms of entertainment and making informed, animal-friendly choices, individuals can contribute to improving the plight of captive big cats in the long term.
South Africa is the biggest exporter of big cats and their parts to anywhere in the world and tourism to commercial big cat facilities encourages the breeding of animals for profit and contributes to the demand for the use of their body parts, in other parts of the world.
“Big cats are used for profit across South Africa. Whether it is for tourists petting cubs at predator parks, ‘walk with’ opportunities with juvenile and adult big cats, snapping selfies for social media, trophy hunting, or the trade of body parts. Caging big cats for profit exploits individual animals and commodifies species. People are frequently not aware of the suffering they contribute to, often unknowingly, by visiting attractions that serve as a front for a cruel industry. Before paying to see big cats in captivity, it is important to do proper research and find animal-friendly places to visit, that do not allow harmful practices like interactions with big cats, facilities with lots of cubs or with overcrowded enclosures. Without legislative action and the public taking a stance against exploitative practices, big cats are threatened with an existence behind bars, for entertainment and profit. South Africa needs to take responsibility and shut down this industry to help prevent the decline of all big cats.”
Fiona Miles, Director at FOUR PAWS South Africa
Captive big cats suffer immensely on breeding farms and in facilities claiming to be sanctuaries
“Captivity is often marketed as conservation, but even without explicit signs of cruelty, big cats are often being exploited in numerous ways. Cubs are handled by visitors shortly after birth, in unnatural environments preventing their natural behaviours, meaning they cannot be released into the wild. Once they are too big to be handled, they may be sold off to other properties, used for breeding or killed for their skin, bones or teeth. Big cats have historically been portrayed as majestic and dignified, but there is no dignity in how these animals are kept,” says Miles.
Throughout the breeding farms in South Africa, captive big cats often suffer from inhumane, dirty and overcrowded conditions. Intensive breeding leads to stress and susceptibility to diseases like ringworm, which can also affect humans. Overcrowded enclosures increase the risk of disease transmission.
“People dream of seeing big cats, such as lions and tigers, in real life their whole lives. So, it can be tempting to visit facilities that front as real conservation efforts, when in reality the truth is far from it. South Africa is a lifetime destination for many, but we’re seeing the same model of big cat interactions all over the world. It is important to learn to recognise red flags and only support places where you know the animals are not being exploited – in true sanctuaries, or better yet – in the wild, where they belong,” says Vanessa Amoroso, Head of Wild Animals in Trade at FOUR PAWS.
FOUR PAWS shares a set of red flags and animal-friendly alternatives visitors can check when looking for wildlife experiences here.
Find out more about the #BreaktheViciousCycle campaign.
According to a recent public polling on the public’s awareness of the big cat trade industry in South Africa commissioned by FOUR PAWS, the majority of South Africans agree that the country’s reputation is damaged by the live export of big cats and trophy hunting. 66% do not support big cat farming for commercial purposes in South Africa and 94% of South Africans say big cats should be better protected by the country’s laws and regulations.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.
Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, farm animals, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.
With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.au