- A report by non-profit organisation Four Paws has found workers at big cat breeding facilities are exploited.
- There are currently over 300 big cat breeding facilities across the country.
- The report found that many of the staff at these facilities were exposed to risks and paid poorly.
A report has found that not only are big cats at breeding farms exploited, but the workers on these farms face exploitation as well.
The report released by the non-profit organisation, Four Paws, found that staff at the estimated 300 big cat breeding facilities across the country often faced unfair working conditions.
The animal welfare organisation has been lobbying for the tightening of restrictions around the breeding and sale of big cats, estimating that there are currently around 12 000 lions and 1 000 tigers held in captivity in the country. These animals are often kept in overcrowded conditions, where they are not given adequate veterinary care, nor are their nutritional needs met.
According to Fiona Miles, director of Four Paws in South Africa, the big cats kept at these facilities are often used for human/animal interactions, after which they are either forced into intensive breeding cycles and trophy hunting. They are also often killed for their bones, which are exported to South East Asian countries for use in traditional medicine.
The latest report found that these facilities do not only keep lions in poor conditions, they also put humans at risk.
The report explores the concept of a link between animal and human welfare – if one suffers, so does the other, said Miles.
"The argument that local farm workers benefit hugely through this industry is a blatant lie. Not only are some workers paid well below the minimum wage, cash in hand, but there are serious concerns about the safety of these workers – with no occupational injuries ever being reported for what they are," she added.
Staff at big cat breeding facilities are often exposed to dangerous work, with little training and safety equipment provided. Over the last decade, 18% of those attacked by big cats in captivity were owners or keepers.
In addition, a lack of hygiene and personal protection equipment (PPE) mean they are at risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases and infections.
Added to the level of risk involved, the workers often received minimum wages or less. This was often paid cash in hand, which facilitated the hiring of undocumented or illegal workers, the report found. Other breaches of labour laws included forcing employees to work without contracts, Four Paws said in the report.
The case studies investigated saw farm workers being paid R2 500 to R3 000 per month for a work week of between 70 and 85 hours. The majority of workers didn’t have contracts, no set annual leave, no paid sick leave, and are not provided with medical insurance, according to the report.
"The captive predator breeding and keeping industry is often labelled as an economic opportunity for transformation and job creation. Even though this industry may create a modest number of jobs, it can be safely assumed that most of the money accrues to a small group of economically advantaged owners," said Miles.
However, it’s not just staff that are placed in danger by big cat breeding facilities. These facilities often offer human/animal interactions, such as cub petting or walking with lions – which also put tourists in danger.
The report references 33 big cat attacks in the last year which were reported in the public domain, which resulted in nine deaths. The report found that 42% of the attacks took place during animal interactions, with six percent taking place during photo opportunities.
Four Paws is calling for a ban on all commercial trade of big cats in South Africa, as well as an investigation by the Department of Labour into breeding facilities’ human resources and working conditions.
"As things stand, we now more than ever, need a collective voice to speak out against this and end the suffering of animals, people and avoid contribution to a next pandemic."
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