Two lion cubs being stroked by guest

Department for Forestry, Fisheries and Environment White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use does not go far enough to protect the country’s wildlife species

FOUR PAWS position on the newly released Department for Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity   


Cape Town, 03 July 2023 – The Department for Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s (DFFE) recently published its final iteration of the White Paper setting out the intent of the South African government to step up their efforts in conserving biodiversity for all South Africans and for there to be a clear benefit for all. However, the global animal welfare organisation, FOUR PAWS, believes the White Paper has deviated significantly from the initial draft that was released in 2022, that took a much more progressive approach to animal welfare issues.

FOUR PAWS in South Africa acknowledges that while ‘sustainable use’ is written into the constitution for South Africa, the White Paper neglects to ensure that there are no loopholes for misinterpretation and subsequent exploitation of wildlife, the impact of which has direct negative consequences for people and the environment. The final version focuses on the benefits of biodiversity to people through ‘sustainable use’ of South Africa’s biodiversity, rather than stressing the intrinsic value of biodiversity and the importance of recognising animal welfare and sentience.

FOUR PAWS is encouraged to see the consideration of animal well-being within the white paper, such as shown in objectives to ‘Promote well-being and humane practices, actions and activities towards wild animals, and the organisation’s position states, “we look forward to seeing how this will be cemented in policy and ensure we actively contribute where appropriate." This is something the organisation believes the country has previously omitted and led to the establishment of South Africa’s big cat industry, which has been largely condemned as an animal welfare crisis. Not acting to correct this, could also have far reaching consequences that feed into the protection of endangered wild animal species and even zoonotic disease outbreak and transmission.

FOUR PAWS urges extreme caution on the issue of “sustainable ex-situ practices” as this could open  the door to the further acceptance of the farming of wildlife for commercial gain, masked by the lens of so-called ex-situ conservation breeding. The intended outputs stated within the White Paper suggest that species may be kept in ex-situ collections, i.e., in captivity, for “commercial benefits.” The concern is that captive facilities will be able to keep animals, without the explicit stipulation of needing to promote and participate in conservation.

FOUR PAWS in South Africa Director, Fiona Miles states: “We are particularly concerned for the welfare of an estimated 10,000 – 12,000 lions and other big cat species, including an unknown number of non-native and endangered tigers kept across the country in captive facilities. South Africa’s captive big cat industry has been allowed to grow without effective monitoring and regulation for decades at the expense of animal welfare, the country’s global reputation, and conservation and enforcement efforts in South Africa and across the globe.”

Ms Miles says: “The animals are bred solely for commercial purposes and have no conservation value. They are used in tourist attractions including cub petting, selfie opportunities, trophy hunting, and perpetuating a global trade in body parts. South Africa is the largest exporter of big cats and their parts from anywhere in the world. The legal trade in big cat body parts from South Africa has been shown to act as a conduit for illegal trade and this White Paper does not go far enough in showing a new direction from the South African government. We therefore urge that all big cat species are considered a priority for inclusion within the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, and that includes non-native big cat species, in order to reverse the decline of big cat populations in the wild.”

FOUR PAWS acknowledges the DFFE’s initial steps taken towards the phase out of the industry, through the establishment of the Ministerial Task Team which is positioned to advise on the voluntary pathways and exit options from the captive lion breeding industry. However, The Ministerial Task Team’s term has recently been extended to the end of the year, reflecting the enormity of the task at hand, and FOUR PAWS would like to see this process expedited as the number of animals and implications for welfare and conservation efforts in South Africa and further afield, are enormous. FOUR PAWS has offered to play a role  and has submitted a draft phase out plan, that commits to time bound goals and objectives, to the relevant authorities and Task Team. This is imperative for South Africa to uphold its reputation as a global leader in conservation.

Read the DFFE White Paper here 


FOUR PAWS petition to urge the South African Government to #BreaktheViciousCycle once and for all, and end the commercial trade in live animals and parts of all big cat species:

Find out more about the #BreaktheViciousCycle campaign here.

According to a recent public polling on the public’s awareness of the big cat trade industry in South Africa commissioned by FOUR PAWS, the majority of South Africans agree that the country’s reputation is damaged by the live export of big cats and trophy hunting. 66% do not support big cat farming for commercial purposes in South Africa and 94% of South Africans say big cats should be better protected by the country’s laws and regulations. Read more here.


Public Relations Officer ZA

Deidre Daniels

Public Relations Officer

+27 (0)21 702 4277

+27 (0)78 675 8220

9B Bell Crescent, Westlake Business Park, 
Green Building, Cape Town, 7945

A Public Relations professional with over eight years’ experience in fostering positive relationships between organisations and media.

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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