Captive tiger behind fence, China

South Africa’s ban on captive lion exploitation is long overdue – but don’t forget about the tigers

South Africa’s Government has announced its intention to shut down the country’s controversial captive lion breeding industry.

It is estimated there may be as many as 8,000 captive lions in private facilities in South Africa, used for ‘canned’ trophy hunts, bones for export as traditional medicine supplies and also as petting cubs for tourism.

South African Lion and Tiger bones

Bones found in raid of big cat slaughterhouse in South Africa

But the captive lion industry also maintains a low-profile trade in captive tigers for hunting and illegal trade – in 2020, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported there were more than 450 captive tigers in South Africa. In the absence of any Government oversight of tigers in captivity, the true number could be higher.

In a statement this week, Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy spelt out the end of the multi-million dollar captive lion industry, calling it part of the “development of a New Deal for people and wildlife in South Africa”.

A report by the Government’s Portfolio Committee, later adopted by Parliament, found that the captive lion breeding industry did not contribute to conservation and was damaging South Africa’s conservation and tourism reputation.

“The captive lion industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism which funds lion conservation and conservation more broadly,” Creecy stated, adding there is a “risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and the illegal trade.”

A High Level Panel recommends that South Africa does not breed or keep lions in captivity nor use captive lions or their derivatives commercially.

“I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation for implementation is conducted,” said the Minister.

South African tiger skin

A tiger skin and bones seized in a raid in South Africa

Debbie Banks, EIA’s Tiger and Wildlife Crime Campaign Leader, said: “This is an encouraging step, not least because the Minister recognised that trade in captive lion body parts risks stimulating poaching and illegal trade.

“We sincerely hope that the same ethos and prohibitions will apply to the hundreds of captive tigers held in South Africa that likewise end up slaughtered for trade in their bones, skins, teeth and claws.

“With fewer than 4,000 wild tigers remaining in Asia, any trade in their parts and derivatives, including from captive-bred specimens raised as far afield as South Africa or Europe, perpetuates the desirability and acceptability of trade in tiger parts, undermining enforcement and demand-reduction efforts.

“South Africa is one of the countries singled out by CITES to receive a special mission to examine its captive tiger situation, its connections to transnational criminal networks and the role of the captive big cat industry in fuelling tiger trade.

“Sadly, a combination of COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions and a lack of funding means those missions have not yet taken place.”

* For more information on tiger farming and trade, including in South Africa, read our report On the Butcher’s Block.