Reports of a tiger cub spotted on a residential property in Morningside, Sandton, earlier this week, have the Sandton SPCA and Ban Animal Trading (BAT) fuming, but it appears that no one really knows if the tiger’s owners are even in violation of the law.
Senior SPCA inspector Stephen Maila told The Citizen that a warning has been issued to the tiger’s owner, with a list of recommendations to be adhered to within 21 days. Maila said the warning was issued by an environmental health inspector that represents the City of Johannesburg (CoJ), and lamented that the owner may not be able to adhere to the list of requirements stipulated in the warning.
He was however not able to divulge what these requirements were.
He explained that the SPCA could not confiscate the cub, because it falls under the jurisdiction of the CoJ.
“We need a joint inspection where the warning was issued so we can be in compliance with CoJ bylaws,” Maila said.
But this is where the confusion sets in.
CoJ spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said he was not aware of the tiger cub.
However, his office issued the following response on Modingoane’s behalf: “The City of Joburg by-laws do not make provision for ownership or keeping of wild animals in the suburban area. We recommend that the SPCA be engaged to provide assistance and guidance in remedying the situation.”
When asked by The Citizen what the requirements were for the tiger cub owner, as stipulated in the warning allegedly issued by the CoJ, Modingoane confirmed that there were no bylaws within the municipality for wild or exotic animals, because it was an urban area.
“We have bylaws for cats and dogs and domestic animals. This is SAPS and SPCA jurisdiction,” he said.
“We don’t just issue notices, there has to be a law attached to it. The SPCA needs to go there and investigate.”
The only bylaws in the City of Joburg regarding wild animals and birds involve the prohibition of hunting wild animals and birds, the firing of a firearm, air gun or air pistol, and offences and penalties.
The laws prohibit any hunting of wild animals or birds, and the disturbing or destroying of any birds, eggs or young. If found guilty of these offences, transgressors face a fine of R50, or could land them a six-month stint in jail. There are no bylaws dealing with the ownership of wild or exotic animals.
A source who spoke to the tiger cub owners told The Citizen that they are in possession of all the permits required to own an exotic animal, and insist they have done nothing wrong.
The owners explained that the four-month-old cub was purchased from a breeder in the south Gauteng area just before lockdown ensued. The cub was destined for a farm in Tzaneen, Limpopo which is owned by the cub’s carers, where other exotic animals and lions reportedly reside as well.
Lockdown prevented the transportation of the cub, the owners explained, but said it would be transported to the farm as soon as lockdown restrictions allow for inter-provincial travel.
Not the only tiger in Joburg:
Ban Animal Trading (BAT) South Africa director Smaragda Louw said the organisation had been alerted to the tiger cub by a concerned resident.
Louw said BAT advised the resident to start a petition with other residents in the area to oppose the cub’s presence, in the hopes that it could be released into the care of a sanctuary.
But, Louw lamented that the cub in Morningside is one of many other tigers residing in the greater Gauteng area.
She explained that keeping exotic animals in Gauteng is allowed, provided the owner has import and transport permits, but that owning a lion was not allowed, because it is indigenous.
“It’s the most bizarre thing. To keep exotic animals in Gauteng, basically anything goes.”
Many tigers reside in the Springs and Kempton Park area.
Louw said when she approached Ekurhuleni health authorities, she was informed of the specifications of the location of an exotic animal’s cage, that it needed to be spaced away from the main house and boundary walls, but that owning an exotic animal was not discouraged.
She lamented that many properties in Gauteng are usually not even big enough for tigers.
“Exotic and indigenous wild animals should be afforded the same legal standing as dogs and cats. There are no laws protecting the people of the animals. And no bylaws means anything goes. It doesn’t matter how big the property is or the fact that there are neighbours. It’s becoming a free-for-all, you can have a zoo in your backyard.”
Louw said BAT has attempted to intervene with reports of tigers being kept in Kempton Park, Benoni and Springs, but that there was nothing they could do. As such, BAT is embarking on a mission to work on passing laws for keeping exotic animals.
Louw also explained that checking if the tiger has enough food, water and shelter was not enough. The psychological health of the tiger plays a significant role as well. And growing up in a suburban backyard is a far cry from a tiger’s natural habitat in the dense jungles of Asia.
“We can hardly take care of dogs and cats. Why would we now want to own wild animals? They may become tame but they can’t be domesticated.”
Other wild Joburg critters:
This is not the first exotic pet to find itself in Johannesburg.
In 2014, the NSPCA laid charges against Andre du Plessis for the neglect and abuse of his capuchin monkey, Elvis.
Elvis died after being admitted to the Fourways Veterinary Hospital of thermal shock and cardiopulmonary failure, because he had been fed incorrectly by Du Plessis, and had infected wounds in his pelvic area due to wearing a nappy. Du Plessis was charged with neglect and fined R24,000 in 2019.
In 2015, a tiger cub was found being kept in a Boksburg home’s backyard. The SPCA’s Maggie Mudd said they were in communication with the owner to implore him to take the cub to a sanctuary, where it could be rehabilitated and live as close to its natural habitat as possible.
And in 2010, Panjo the tiger escaped from the vehicle transporting him to a vet checkup between Groblersdal and Bronkhorstspruit, spurring on a days-long search for the big cat. After he was found, he was taken back to his home at Jugomaro Predator Park in Groblersdal, IOL reported in 2017.
And the last report of Panjo did not spell a happy ending for the tiger, whose family were later evicted from their home. They later found a home in Vaalwater, Limpopo, but the family lost three lions and a tiger to a tragic poisoning incident on their farm in 2018.
These are just some of the incidents involving exotic animals being kept as pets. The latest incident prompted Maila to reiterate the SPCA’s stance on wild animals as pets.
“We don’t encourage people to own these animals. They have much more needs than humans can cater for in a captive environment. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it illegal. We don’t have enough restrictions to stop people owning wild animals in South Africa,” he lamented.
He said the frustrating part was that the SPCA was in charge of investigating cruelty and welfare needs, but it needed to comply with the City of Joburg and other authorities, and could not simply confiscate the cub.
He also warned that people are not thinking clearly about what will happen when the cub is fully grown, and that if it gets out, it becomes a public hazard to its own and other people’s lives.
“It’s not fair to own these animals just because we can afford it. Once it’s been bred in captivity and moved from its natural environment and reality, the animal is deprived of its own right to existence,” Maila said.
He assured that the SPCA would be keeping a close eye on the situation, and if the owner complies with the requirements within the next three weeks.
Updates on this story will follow as more information is made available.
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