Live Trade of Endangered Species

Both tigers and jaguars are CITES Appendix I species due to their precarious conservation statuses, and should therefore not be traded for commercial purposes.
Yet, both species are exported live by South Africa for profit purposes to zoos, captive breeding facilities and even to circuses and travelling exhibitions in mainly Southeast Asia.
How is this possible?
Whilst most zoos are run on a profit-making business model, CITES does not consider such captive wildlife facilities to be “commercial”.
This is a serious loophole that opens the legal commercial trade in CITES Appendix I listed species and needs to be addressed by CITES urgently in order to reduce the exploitation of endangered wildlife species.

South Africa’s Live EXOTIC Big Cat Trade

Over a period of 10 years, South Africa exported 384 live captive-bred tigers, 39 pumas and 34 jaguars. These exotic species were mainly exported to countries in Southeast Asia, such as China, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
None of them are known for their high standards of animal welfare and well-being, while at the same time they have a reputation for the trade in and use of wild animal body parts and derivatives for traditional medicine.

Top Reasons for Live Tiger Export

Most of the 384 live tigers that South Africa exported between 2010-2020 were imported by zoos (269), breeding facilities (54), circuses (42) and for commercial purposes (16), according to the CITES Trade Database.
Couple this with the Top 5 importing countries of live tigers from South Africa, namely Vietnam, China, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and we may not only be feeding the tiger bone trade directly, but also potentially create huge animal welfare issues and suffering.

South Africa’s Live EXOTIC Big Cat Trade

South Africa breeds and trades a wide variety of exotic species, including predators like tigers, pumas and jaguars.
Tigers once occurred throughout central, eastern and southern Asia but in the past 100 years they have lost 93% of their historic range.
This charismatic species is now listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with only an estimated 3 500 tigers surviving in the wild.
Jaguar’s native habitat is the South American continent and is the only living representative of the genus Panthera in this part of the world.
Their population decline is significant. It is suspected that we have lost at least 20-25% of mature individuals in the last 21 years. Jaguar are now listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
The puma’s historic range is the largest of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere and its distribution was all the way from Canada through the USA, Central and South America to the southern tip of Chile.
The puma is also a highly adaptable big cat and is found in a broad range of habitats – in all forest types, as well as lowland and montane desert. It is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

South Africa’s Live Serval Trade

Serval is a medium-sized, strong yet slender cat that is known for its jumping ability. During the latter half of the 20th century, serval were considered near extinct in South Africa, primarily due to persecution as a damage-causing animal.
Through successful reintroduction of serval into many areas within its natural range, it is now considered to be Near Threatened and is a CITES Appendix II species.
Between 2010-2020, South Africa exported 1,016 live serval with the most majority (98.2%) being captive-bred. However, the export of 18 wild-caught serval for non-conservation purposes is a concerning trend.

Commercial Trade in Caracal

The high number of live caracals imported from South Africa worldwide for commercial purposes (n = 681) is extremely worrisome, especially to countries like China (n = 152), Malaysia (n = 64), Thailand (n = 66), and Vietnam (n = 43).
The commercial import of wildlife generally means that animal traders, wholesalers or brokers are involved, who will resell the animals within the region for profit. The final destination of these animals is frequently unknown.
The resale of wild animals imported under CITES for commercial purposes can happen without CITES resale permits and for ANY reason, including to zoos, breeders, pet traders, and laboratories. These animals can even be killed at their final destination and their body parts sold for profit.

Where do South Africa’s Live Exported Caracal Go?

The top 5 importing countries of live caracals from South Africa (2010- 2020) are:
  • China
  • United States
  • Germany
  • Thailand
  • Indonesia
China is yet again the top importer with 246 live caracals, mostly for commercial purposes (61.7%), zoos (30.9%), breeding in captivity (5.7%) and personal use (1.6%).
This breakdown of purposes to China also reflects the worldwide top import reasons for live caracal, as is shown in the graph.

South Africa’s Live Caracal Trade

Although caracal can be commonly found in the wild in South Africa, Botswana and southern Namibia, this slender mid-sized felid is considered rare throughout most of its range.
In South Africa, caracal is classed as Least Concern and the African populations fall under CITES Appendix II.
According to the CITES Trade Database, South Africa exported 1,058 live caracals between 2010-2020 to 39 countries globally. Most of these caracals were captive-bred, but 72 individuals were from wild origin.
Even though the capture and removal of wild caracals for captive breeding and trade is currently considered a minor conservation threat according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), it is concerning to see the high number of live caracals exported from the wild.

Commercial Trade in Leopards is Prohibited

Leopards are a CITES Appendix I species, which means that their commercial trade is prohibited.
DEFINITION: Commercial use under CITES means “….to obtain economic benefit” and is “directed towards resale, exchange etc”, e.g. import and resale through wildlife traders.
With that in mind, four live leopards were exported for commercial purposes from South Africa between 2010-2020 and 50 leopards were exported to zoos around the world, including 14 to zoos in China.
Besides the fact that wild animals are sentenced to a life in captivity in zoos, under often abhorrent conditions, questions around CITES export regulations for Appendix I species need to be raised.
Are zoos conservation and education facilities or are they commercial enterprises?
If zoos are commercial facilities, Appendix I species like leopard should not be allowed to be traded.

Where do South Africa’s Live Exported Leopards Go?

The top 5 importing countries from South Africa (2010- 2020) are:
  • China
  • Malawi
  • Egypt
  • Canada
  • Vietnam
An interesting importing country in this Top 5 is Malawi, where eight out of the 18 wild leopards were exported to from South Africa for the purpose of reintroduction into the wild in 2011 and 2012. African Parks translocated a total of six leopards to Majete Wildlife Reserve as part of the predator introduction programme.
According to the below paper some successes were achieved by the project, with all individuals surviving more than 2.5 years post-release. All but one female successfully raised cubs, and three of the leopards established permanent home ranges.
The full research paper can be accessed via ResearchGate here.