“We don’t really have rules. When it comes to wildlife trade, Europe is a big mess. Germany is one of the leading countries when it comes to trade of wildlife,” Ioana Dungler, director of the Wild Animals department at the animal welfare organization Four Paws, tells The Animal Reader.
At the beginning of September, the lioness cub Lea was discovered by the German police in a car accident. Lea was taken from her mother at only a few weeks old. Police found out that she was from a Slovakian breeder and on her way to Spain.
Four Paws offered to take care of the lion cub in one of their sanctuaries, but the German government said that Lea’s transport papers were ok and she will be sent to a private owner in Spain.
“It is incomprehensible that a rare big cat, who is far too young to travel, is transported in completely unsuitable conditions across the EU without any consequences. Alarm bells should be ringing, but the German authorities seem to ignore them,” Dungler says.
She worries about what will happen to Lea when she gets older. Will she also be used for breeding?
“The sad part is that all these regulations, and also how the European Union legislation is working, has nothing to do with welfare. It’s all about procedures and processes and documents. If the documents are right, it doesn’t matter that the bases are wrong,” Dungler says.
For Four Paws, Lea’s case further proofs the EU’s failure to protect big cats. The lack of legislation and controls makes Europe a hotspot for the legal and illegal wildlife trade.
Legal to breed and trade big cats in the EU
Fourteen European countries, like Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy and the UK, still allow private individuals or circuses to keep tigers.
In those fourteen countries, it’s still legal to breed and commercially trade big cats in captivity, both within Europe and for export throughout the world.
Without thorough documentation of the number of big cats kept in captivity in the EU member states, and without control of the trade within the EU, the legal and illegal wildlife trafficking will continue to flourish.
“Most EU member states do not have centralized databases. Official papers can easily be forged, or sometimes cubs are not recorded at all. Big cats are seen as commodities and passed around for breeding, trade and exploitation,” says Dungler.
“Only a comprehensive, EU-wide ban on the trade with big cats kept in captivity can prevent that these animals continue to suffer for profit,” she adds.
More tigers in captivity than in the wild
Last year, Polish authorities found ten tigers stuck in the back of a truck. They were being transported from Italy to Russia. One of the tigers died, and the others were emaciated, covered in feces, and “in a total state of stress”.
Tigers have been mass killed by habitat destruction and a big demand for their bones, skins, and other body parts used in decorations, medicinal tonics and as status symbols in Southeast Asia and China.
Two years ago, the Czech Republic revealed evidence of organized criminal groups involved in captive breeding of tigers for products to be illegally exported to Asia.
In 2020, more tigers are living in captivity than in the wild. Fewer than 4,000 tigers live in the wild. Four Paws estimates that there are more than 5,000 captive tigers in the United States and 8,000 in Asia.
Watch the interview with Ioana Dungler, director of the Wild Animals department at the animal welfare organization Four Paws.Donate