Lions Samson and Tom inspecting new enclosure

Survey shows South Africans want better legislative protection for all big cat species 

More than 90% of South Africans say big cats should be better protected by the country’s laws and regulations.


More than 90% of South African respondents of a survey commissioned by animal welfare organisation, FOUR PAWS say big cats should be better protected by the country’s laws and regulations. There is also high support among the thousand respondents polled (71%) that the government should include non-native big cat species, such as tigers that are held in captivity in South Africa, in the upcoming legislation to ban captive lion breeding industry, and not only South Africa’s lions.

Respondents who are pro-legislation also mostly agree (73%) that the country’s reputation will be damaged because of trophy hunting and trade of big cats.

These are some of the key messages arising from the results of a Year of the Tiger-survey commissioned by FOUR PAWS and prepared by Ask Africa Market Research earlier this year.

“There is also a strong positive correlation between people who believe that big cats should be protected by South Africa and that the public should be educated about big cat farming and subsequent international trade. The industry is huge and spans the intensive farming of lions and non-native tigers involved in entertainment and commercial trade in parts, and, the export of leopard trophies,” says Director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa, Fiona Miles.

FOUR PAWS commissioned the research with the objective to find out more about awareness and visitation of captive breeding facilities and farms, awareness of big cat private ownership and prospective support for legislative changes that needs to be made. In South Africa, more than 300 captive wildlife facilities breed and keep an estimated 12 000 lions, an unknown number of tigers, as well as cheetahs, leopards, and non-native jaguars

Due to the demand for commercial trade, intensive breeding and inbreeding occurs on many of these farms, leading to health issues and physical deformities in the cubs, which are often forced to participate in tourist petting or bottle feeding for entertainment.

Commenting on the general note and direction of the survey, Miles says there is a clear need to raise awareness to allow the public to make informed decisions when visiting these facilities.

“The results point to a clear lack of awareness of what these facilities are involved in. Afterall, the majority of the people who want to see big cats up close and personal, do so because they are interested in the species and would not undertake these activities if they knew how exploitative they really are.”

Television shows such as Netflix’s Tiger King have increased awareness of captive breeding of big cats amongst South Africans, but awareness of big cat trade and profiteering in South Africa, as well as the vicious cycle of life of the animals in and after captivity remain low according to the survey.

Two in three people surveyed have interacted with a big cat at a farm or animal encounter centre. The survey shows young people are significantly more likely to visit these facilities as well as students, those who work full-time, and graduates.

The survey shows a majority of people (81%) prefer to see big cats in the wild as opposed to in captivity and believe that they should not be kept on private property – providing strong support for the end of big cat farming in South Africa. Further to this, most people believe that these animals should not be traded for profit or bred for commercial purposes.

Says Miles: “It will be important to inform these groups on the bigger picture of exploitation involved in big cat trade and the cruel lifecycle of a big cats in captivity in South Africa. People are aware that cubs are separated at birth for entertainment and hunting purposes, but they are less aware of the exploitation that might occur at later stages of their life, behind closed doors.

She believes that FOUR PAWS can play a key role in this regard and should partner with private and the public sector to drive this awareness.

Three in four respondents could accurately describe what a wild animal sanctuary or rehabilitation centre is.

“This points to a need for public education. The survey comes with a warning that despite the awareness around big cat farms many people still visit active breeding farms. This may point to a lack of awareness and highlights the need for public education. It can also be exceedingly difficult to distinguish between a true sanctuary and one that is posing to be one. One of the easiest ways to distinguish is to avoid facilities that allow interactions between visitors and big cats and if they breed them.”

The survey found a large percentage of respondents (83%) stated that they know the difference between a wild animal sanctuary, rehabilitation centre and a commercial lion breeding farm. When asked to correctly identify what they are, most people accurately described the commercial farm. Two in three people have visited a farm or animal encounter centre where they interacted with big cats.

Findings showed nearly half of respondents who visited an animal encounter centre where they could touch, walk, or view captive big cats were concerned about the size of the enclosures, with at least one in three that were concerned about the number of animals per enclosure and the conditions of the animals.

The survey also focused on tigers in captivity in South Africa and found one in two people are not aware that tigers are being farmed in South Africa. A total of 46% of the survey group have touched, played with, or fed the cubs of lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards during visits. More than 60% agree that tigers should not be kept on private property or be kept as pets. /END

Note to the Editor:

The survey was done through an online research panel with a sample size of a thousand South African respondents. The respondent profile was the general South African population aged 18 and older with 78% of the group being parents or guardians. Of these 40% spoke English, 17% Afrikaans and 14% isiZulu. The biggest group of respondents comes from Gauteng (46%) with the Western Cape second with 19%. A total of 48% of the respondents had a tertiary qualification and 38% qualified with a matric.

Big cat polling_Infographic

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. 

Share now!