How South Africa’s captive big cat breeding industry is exploiting animals AND people 

The industry of abuse has allowed animal suffering to proliferate to alarming levels.


A new report by the global FOUR PAWS Animal Welfare Foundation released this week reveals a new element in the captive predator breeding industry which highlights the severe exploitation of not only animals, but the workers in this industry.

The report showcases the great discrepancy between those who own predator breeding and interaction facilities, and the workers at these farms. As a result of the FOUR PAWS investigation and interviews, three case studies are presented in this new report.

“The argument that local farm workers benefit hugely through this industry is a blatant lie. Not only are some workers paid well below the minimum wage, cash in hand, but there are serious concerns about the safety of these workers – with no occupational injuries ever being reported for what they are,” says Fiona Miles, Director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa.

The case studies investigated saw farm workers being paid R2500 – R3000 per month for a work week of between 70 and 85 hours. Additionally, the vast majority of workers don’t have contracts, no set annual leave, no paid sick leave and are not provided with medical insurance. With most not receiving payslips, it’s highly likely that the employers are not paying UIF fees or PAYE taxes.

“The captive predator breeding and keeping industry is often labelled as an economic opportunity for transformation and job creation. Even though this industry may create a modest number of jobs, it can be safely assumed that most of the money accrues to a small group of economically advantaged owners,” 

Fiona Miles, Director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa

Complete disregard for animal welfare

Looking at the welfare of animals in these predator breeding and interaction facilities, it’s clear that the industry lacks any regard for welfare. Basic welfare needs are not being permitted these cats and it’s evident that the only thing that matters in this industry is profit – no matter at what cruel cost to the animals.

“Cub mortality is probably one of the most shocking welfare issues at many of the commercial breeding farms, with lion cub mortality estimated to be at 40%, tiger cub mortality up to 65%, and liger and leopard mortality estimated at 50%,” says Miles.

Lack of hygienic protocols and veterinary care

The report notes that, while the world was brought to its knees by the Coronavirus pandemic, most of the breeding facilities do not have the necessary hygienic protocols in place to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases. With enclosures being packed to capacity, cleaning is hardly possible resulting in fecal matter all over as well as decaying carcasses.

“Suffering is compounded in these facilities by the fact that unless the value of the animal justifies the expense, most predator owners refuse to call for veterinary assistance,” highlights Miles.

Official figures are highly unlikely

The most recent official statistic presented by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries in South Africa, is that 7,979 lions were being kept at 366 facilities across the country.

“This official figure is likely an underestimation, as this would mean that the average number of lions per facility has halves from around 50 in 2005 to 22 around 15 years later. Keeping with 50 lions per facility, which would be more accurate if you take the growth of the industry into account, we’re looking at a captive lion population that could be as large as 18 000, excluding all other indigenous and exotic carnivores,” exclaimed Miles.

What FOUR PAWS is asking

Previously, FOUR PAWS handed over more than half a million signatures to end canned hunting. Collectively, from all organisations lobbying towards the end of the captive breeding of predators, more than 6 million people pleaded government ends this by means of petitions.

“As things stand, we now more than ever, need a collective voice to speak out against this and end the suffering of animals, people and avoid contribution to a next pandemic,” says Miles.

FOUR PAWS call on the Department of Environment to ban all commercial trade of big cats in South Africa, to end the unregulated captive breeding and keeping of big cats, and call on the Department of Labour to investigate breeding facilities’ human resources, to implement Standard Operating Procedures for Sectoral Determination 13 to protect workers and for these two departments to work together and include these standards as a prerequisite for issuing permits to hold predators.


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