Concern Grows Around South Africa’s Tiger Trade

When wildlife enthusiasts think of Africa’s majestic big cats, tigers are not typically at the forefront of their minds.

But the Asian felines are a hot commodity in South Africa, where the controversial predator breeding industry has been under scrutiny.

Tigers can be found throughout South Africa’s “predator parks”, where tourists can “pay to play” and be photographed with cute tiger and lion cubs.

And while there has been increasing focus on the lion bone trade emanating from South Africa’s game industry, its “legal” tiger trade seem to have gone largely unnoticed.

With questions being raised about South Africa’s rhino exports to China and its lion bone exports to Southeast Asia, it seems that the tiger trade may be another part of the disturbing trend of sourcing African wildlife for traditional Chinese medicine.

South Africa’s game industry sent tigers to Vietnam

Updated 07/18/2012: At least two companies in South Africa exported tigers to Vietnam, according to publicly available documentation at http://www.environment.gov.za/sites/default/files/question767.pdf.

Given current trends in Vietnam’s illegal wildlife trade (and particularly that of rhino horn and tiger bone for consumption in traditional Chinese medicines), it seems indisputable that due diligence must be done before any consideration can be given to exporting animals to a country where they are so heavily targeted by black market demand.

Trophy hunting tigers in South Africa?

Disturbing images posted on the website of Limpopo-based Gotsoma Safaris strongly suggest that trophy hunting of tigers is indeed happening in South Africa.

Undated photos show a trophy hunter posing with both a tiger and a jaguar (two species that are not native to Africa) that he presumably killed. (The **graphic** images can be viewed here.)

According to the CITES trade database, several tiger “trophies” have been exported from South Africa in recent years.

Between 2000 and 2010, at least 16 tiger trophies were exported, although not to Asian countries. However, if current trends in rhino and lion trade loopholes are any indication, South Africa’s tiger trade is worth watching.

In the case of trophy hunted lions, many trophies and all reported skeletons have been exported to Southeast Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and Laos.

While the “Norms and Standards for the Sustainable Use of Large Predators in South Africa” does protect big cats native to the country, the legislation does not extend to exotic species like tigers.

Unfortunately, it seems that –- despite the urgent circumstances faced by the world’s last remaining wild tigers (now believed to number only around 3,200 individuals) –- tiger trophy hunting is legal in South Africa, as long as the necessary permits are issued.


Edited by Rhishja Cota-Larson

Photo © Bhatti Ijaz

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Sarah Pappin is a biologist-turned-writer, with a BSc in wildlife science from Oregon State University. She has been writing about global wildlife conservation issues since 2009. When she's not blogging, she enjoys loud music, creating art, hula hooping, and being outdoors.