The breeding of tigers for trade abroad, along the lines of South Africa's legal lion breeding, is threatening the already declining species, an animal welfare group warned in a report on Tuesday.
There are about 4,000 tigers left in the wild in the world. According to a report by the NGO Four Paws, 359 farmed tigers were exported by South Africa between 2011 and 2020. Some 255 were sold to zoos.
The tigers are not native to South Africa and there are no population figures for them in the country. The species is also not explicitly mentioned in animal protection legislation, leaving "loopholes that allow the trade" to prey on the species, said Kieran Harkin, an expert at the NGO.
"The Asian market is already there, the demand is there, it makes sense for breeders to move into the tiger trade, which is even more lucrative than the lion trade," he says. Four Paws is calling on South Africa to end commercial breeding of the big cats, whose population is declining in part because of the trade to Asian countries.
"We call on South Africa to stop supporting this market and stand up for wildlife by not perpetuating the trade-in declining species," said Kieran Harkin. He said the country was flouting international laws that say tigers should not be bred for commercial purposes. Some farms sell the bones, which are used in traditional Asian medicine.
National laws and international agreements need to be "re-examined because they are clearly not working", according to the NGO's South Africa director, Fiona Miles. If endangered species are not protected, "big cats may one day exist only in cages," she warned in a statement.