Outrage over tiger cub kept in backyard

By Gabi Falanga Time of article published Aug 5, 2015

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Johannesburg - It may sound insane, but owning a pet tiger in Gauteng is legal.

Animal welfare groups have discovered multiple people in Ekurhuleni who own one of these exotic animals, and can do nothing about it.

According to these groups, the legislation in Gauteng allows for exotic animals to be kept as pets in built-up areas, and the problem is growing.

The Boksburg SPCA is furious after it was unable to convince the owner of a tiger cub in the town to send the animal to a sanctuary.

The cub, which is estimated to be about three months old, is being kept in the resident’s backyard.

While the big cat could weigh 350kg when fully grown, the owner has claimed he’ll simply build a cage to house it.

“There’s very little that we can do for this tiger. Under the Animal Protection Act and under the by-laws, we have no grounds,” manager of the Boksburg SPCA Maggie Mudd said.

“It doesn’t make sense that (in Gauteng) I need a permit to keep a tortoise but I can keep a tiger,” she pointed out.

Animals not originating naturally in South Africa are classified as exotic, and each province has different legislation regarding the keeping of such animals.

“If we got there and the animal was emaciated and in a pitiable condition, then, under the Animal Protection Act, we’d have grounds to seize the animal. What’s so ironic is that we have to wait for it to get in a bad condition before we can do anything.”

Isabel Wentzel, a senior inspector at the national SPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit, said people don’t think about the future when buying dangerous wild animals.

“They want the animal now (when) it’s a cute cub that can live in the house. A year down the line, that animal isn’t safe to live in the house with.”

Meanwhile, Brett Glasby, the programmes consultant for animal welfare organisation Four Paws South Africa, said the future was bleak for animals like this tiger. “They are generally not kept in ideal circumstances and the risk of those animals attacking or killing someone is very high.”

Tigers in private care would usually be provided with an enclosure that was smaller than adequate, which would lead to stereotypical behaviour such as self-biting, over-grooming and pacing, due to boredom and stress.

The diet provided to such an animal was usually not adequate either.

The number of people buying tigers was becoming more prevalent, Glasby said. These animals sometimes landed up as part of the canned hunting industry.

“There are instances in South Africa where tigers are raised for the bullet.”

Wentzel and Glasby believe that tiger owners acquire these beautiful animals in order to show off.

“In my opinion, it comes down to ego,” said Glasby. “What other need is there to keeping a tiger other than to brag that you have a tiger?”

Glasby was involved with the negotiations with the Boksburg tiger owner and offered the tiger a home at the Lionsrock big cat sanctuary, which was turned down.

“The offer we made to him stands to anyone who is keeping a big cat in South Africa,” he said.

In the meantime, Mudd said she plans to approach Ekurhuleni councillors to alter the by-laws to make it illegal for dangerous wild animals to be kept in built-up areas.

She will be assisted by other SPCA branches in the area, who have experienced the same problem.

“The by-laws in Cape Town are much better than ours. We hope that because these are already in law, it will be easier and quicker to have them implemented here too,” Mudd said.

Glasby indicated there had been a move towards a change in national legislation to govern the keeping of exotic and dangerous animals. “It will mean that everyone who is keeping large, dangerous animals, in particular tigers, will need a permit. I don’t know when the legislation will become active,” he added.

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The Star

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