South Africa: Footage of tigers roaming the streets highlights boom in big cat farming

In this surveillance footage, a tiger is seen walking around the yard of a business in Edenvale, north-east of Johannesburg, on January 30.
In this surveillance footage, a tiger is seen walking around the yard of a business in Edenvale, north-east of Johannesburg, on January 30. © Dwayne Slabbert

Footage shows two different tigers exploring the streets of South Africa during the month of January. These two escaped big cats shocked residents and one of them attacked a man. Animal rights activists say these events shine a light on the big cat breeding and export business in the country.


On January 13, a tigress named Sheba escaped from her enclosure on a private farm in De Deur, South Africa, bringing terror to the streets of this small town near Johannesburg. After injuring a man and killing several animals, the tigress was shot by her owner. 

Another tiger showed up on security footage on January 30 in a nearby city. We spoke to Dwayne Slabbert, a sales manager at Layne Industries in Edenvale, who owns the property where the tiger was filmed.

My driver phoned me at 5:50 in the morning stating that there's a tiger in the yard. Obviously, I did not believe him. But he went outside and he saw movement. 

The first camera angle that we saw, we thought it might have been a lion or something like that or, I don’t know, maybe a big dog. Because the first footage was not clear. And then we changed camera angles. We were obviously shocked and in disbelief. 

To find out more about why these animals were found roaming the streets, we spoke to a representative of the NGO Four Paws, which aims to protect animals from human exploitation. 

Sarah Locke explained:

We believe there are links to the exotic big cat industry and the exotic pet industry. 

It's not like this is a squirrel that can be found in a park. These are animals that aren't native, so they're not found locally in South Africa. So that means that somebody must actually be breeding them in captivity for a specific purpose.

The commercial gain and profit is the real key driver. It's not animal welfare. So the animal welfare is going to fall beside the wayside. And that's our main concern. 

According to figures compiled under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 636 live tigers were legally exported from South Africa between 2012 and 2022. Tigers are not found naturally in South Africa and are considered an endangered species.

Among the biggest importers are China, Vietnam and Thailand, which, according to Four Paws, are "known hotspots for big cat farming and illegal trade".

Four Paws says that South Africa is the largest exporter of big cats, both alive and in parts. According to CITES data, 134 tiger body parts have been exported from South Africa in the last ten years.

There are no official statistics which could give an order of magnitude of the number of tigers in captivity throughout the world. But according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2020, there are about three times as many tigers in captivity as in the wild. These farms are regularly criticised for the conditions in which tigers and other big cats are raised.

CITES is supposed to regulate these activities. However, associations like Four Paws are concerned that South Africa is not doing enough to fully implement the convention. Moreover, it is not necessary to have a permit to own an exotic animal in certain provinces, including the one from which the two tigers escaped.