“Tigers have very little protection under SA law, despite being considered an endangered species. This is particularly true in Gauteng, where such cases of private keeping are prevalent.”
According to Four Paws, there are around 1,500 tigers kept in captivity in SA, though there are fewer than 4,000 left in the wild.
“The department of forestry, fisheries and the environment announced earlier this year that it plans to outlaw captive lion breeding, keeping lions in captivity and stopping the commercial use of lions or their derivatives, but tigers are not included in this draft plan.
“Many tigers are kept in suburban homes for reasons such as social media exposure. Despite being hand-reared and appearing playful, the cats are wild animals, sentient predators and keeping them in these conditions is hugely exploitative. Exercise and socialisation with other individuals of their species are not available to them, and there is the risk they could pose a danger to others unless adequate safety measures are taken,” Four Paws said.
Miles called on the government to include all big cats in the legislation and appealed for action urgently to complete the process to bring new laws into effect.
“This case highlights why we need to bring the captive breeding of big cats to an end,” said Miles.
The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) said its hands were tied. It said it had conducted an inspection and issued a warning for contraventions in terms of the Animals Protection Act, but there was no guarantee this would have an impact.
“Unfortunately, it is not in the hands of the NSPCA to issue permits for the keeping of any wildlife. This is handled by Nature Conservation [a division of the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development], and they set the requirements needed to obtain a permit, which makes it legal for people to own exotic wildlife,” the organisation said.
“In the case of tigers in Gauteng, an import permit is required when the tigers originate from outside Gauteng. It all seems a little trivial when you consider tigers are an appendix 1 listed animal in terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora [Cites]. Very restricted conditions exist for trade in tigers.”
Regarding the conditions in which it found the tigers, the organisation said: “This is certainly not the way these animals should be kept. We understand the area the tigers are being housed in would not comply with the draft [regulations] for Gauteng zoo norms and standards, wherein the minimum area for a tiger to be housed in is 600m2.
“Tigers in residential areas are not a good mix. Tigers are exposed to additional and unnatural stressors in terms of noises, smells, dogs, cats, humans and air pollution, to name a few. Initially these may serve as enrichment to a degree, but thereafter, simply additional negative stress. They belong in the wild. Not only is this extremely unfair and unjust toward the animals, it is also unethical and a risk to everyone exposed to the animals,” the NSPCA said.
There were also risks to the owners, the organisation said, as these animals could carry pathogens that transmit from animal to human and vice versa. “These include ringworm, herpes, rabies and other parasitic and bacterial infections.
“How the department of health can allow this is beyond understanding, and when it comes to the inherent danger of attack by a tiger on a human it is beyond comprehension the municipality allows such keeping of tigers,” the NSPCA said.
The crèche owner said, the tiger owners had approached her in March, asking if they could extend their wall. She said she was told this was because they wanted to build a flat-like dwelling in their backyard for their children, and required the high wall for safety.
But she suspects this was for the tigers.
“We first saw the tigers last Thursday. I heard people talk about there being tigers, but we had never seen them.”