Press release

For sale: Africa’s wildlife cruelty – the ‘big five’ and ‘little five’ animals revealed

04 October 2019

The international demand for Africa’s iconic wildlife is causing huge numbers of animals immense suffering and putting their survival at risk, reveals a unique study ‘Exploiting Africa’s wildlife – the ‘Big 5’ and ‘Little 5’, by World Animal Protection.

Africa is a treasure chest of biodiversity - but its wildlife is in great danger. This report reveals that an estimated 2.7 million animals were legally traded internationally between 2011 and 2015. This number represents the top five ‘big’ and ‘little’ species that are being taken from the wild and bred in commercial farms[1] for their skin and the exotic pet trade.[2]

The ‘Big 5’ species most in demand for their skins and being legally sold are: the Nile crocodile, cape fur seal, Hartmanns’ mountain zebra, African elephant and the common hippopotamus.

The five little species most in demand for use as exotic pets and being legally sold are: the ball python, African grey parrot, emperor scorpion, leopard tortoise and the savannah monitor lizard.

The research shines a spotlight on the animal suffering involved in this legal trade which is all too often overlooked. This ranges from the initial traumatic capture, cramped export, poor captive breeding conditions, slaughter, sale and the subsequent use of the animals, when kept as exotic pets. These conditions can cause the animals stress, trauma, physical injuries, and sometimes lead to death.

The report reveals some disturbing findings – all happening legally:

  • Nile crocodiles are intensively farmed to be slaughtered and skinned for their leather, with an average of over 189,000 skins exported annually between 2011 and 2015
  • Cape fur seals find themselves at the centre of a horrific annual hunt held in Namibia. Thousands of pups are rounded up and clubbed and suffocated to death. Adult seals are shot or clubbed, and sometimes even skinned alive, due to demand for wild fur [3] in fashion accessories
  • Elephants are killed in the wild, for their ivory but also for their skins, which are used for jackets and car interiors. Due to their size, a humane death isn’t guaranteed, as bullets that miss their mark can result in a prolonged and agonising death
  • Ball pythons were the most-traded live animal, with more than half a million exported between 2011 and 2015 alone. Most are shipped to the USA, for a life destined in a glass display tank
  • African grey parrots were exported in their thousands for the exotic pet trade, with a total of 289,006 individuals exported between 2011 and 2015. African greys suffer considerably during capture, transport and in captivity.

With so many species unique to the continent, consumer markets from all over the world have raided this rich larder of wildlife. But with globalisation, sprawling cities and population growth – African wildlife is at a crossroad – where the global community can either unite to protect it, or allow the exploitation to continue to the point of no return.

Dr Neil D’Cruze, Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare at World Animal Protection said:

“When people hear of Africa’s famous ‘Big 5’ and ‘Little 5’ they probably think of the iconic wild animals tourists hope to see on a wildlife safari. But after reading this report, I hope they’ll remember a different ‘Big’ 5’ and ‘Little 5’ - those African wild animals that are being greedily exploited the most by consumers around the world.

“Trading animals in this way may be legal, but it doesn’t make it right. These are wild animals - not factory-produced goods. This cruel industry hurts wild animals and can damage Africa’s biodiversity with devastating long-term impacts on livelihoods and economies too. How did we get to the point where animals are exported and greedily exploited for our personal pleasure? Does the life of an animal mean nothing at all?”

Tennyson Williams, Country Director, World Animal Protection Africa said:

“Africa’s unique wildlife has been commodified - exploited for money, without full consideration for their welfare or conservation - but it doesn’t have to be this way. We know we can benefit from living side by side these amazing animals. Thousands of visitors from around the world come to see them – it’s essential we protect this legacy for future generations.

“Together, we, as the global community and African nations can work together to be custodians of wildlife, or we can choose to allow this cruel exploitation to continue - to the point of no return.”

Beyond the legal trade, the top five illegally traded African animals reported in the media during 2017 was: elephant, rhino, giraffe, pangolin and African lion. Shockingly:

A total of 1,028 rhinos were killed in 2017 in South Africa alone, in some cases with them having their horns hacked while they are still conscious, causing unbearable suffering

Pangolins, which are now considered the most heavily-trafficked mammal in the world, suffer tortuous and agonising deaths. They can be literally boiled alive to remove their keratin scales, which are highly valued in traditional medicine
Lions are often poached using meat poisoned with crop pesticide as bait. They die an agonising death, and the animals unlucky enough to then feed on their carcass also suffer a similar fate.

World Animal Protection is launching this on World Animal Day alongside a global campaign film which highlights the many ways that we are using and abusing wild animals, without any due consideration to the pain, stress, and suffering we as a society are causing them every single day. To see the film, visit our YouTube page

[1] Facilities where wild animals are placed and bred for commercial purposes

[2] According to CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

[3] Fur that’s highly prized as it’s caught from animals in the wild, rather than those that are farmed in captivity

Dr Neil D’Cruze, Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare at World Animal Protection said: “Trading animals in this way may be legal, but it doesn’t make it right. These are wild animals - not factory-produced goods."