Big Cats on CITES Agenda: Legal and illegal trade report released


There is an urgent need to understand and address the interdependence and impacts of legal and illegal trade in different big cat species. Hopefully the report just published will also prove to be of great support for the future work of the CITES Big Cats Working Group.

Jaguar. Picture by Nicholas of Pixabay

The report reviewed the trade routes and traded products of eight species of big cats and observes that there is evidence of significant ongoing trade, both legal and illegal:

  • lions (Panthera leo)
  • tigers (Panthera tigris)
  • clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa)
  • jaguars (Panthera onca)
  • leopards (Panthera pardus)
  • cougar (Puma concolor)
  • snow leopards (Panthera uncia)
  • live specimens of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)

With respect, mislabeling of parts and derivatives, apparently to meet demand for other parts of nearly indistinguishable species, appears to be widespread. This makes it difficult to identify the true numbers of big cats to species level in trade, and therefore any big cat species may be opportunistically captured for trade.

Bones and skins destined for traditional medicine products were the most frequently seized specimens, with those of tigers and leopards predominating. Much of the trade appears to be illegal under national law, highlighting the urgent need to close loopholes in laws or enforcement.

Because of the ease with which parts and derivatives of big cats can be interchanged with each other – for example, a lion’s claw resembles a tiger’s claw – most big cat species are found in commerce. due to the demand for only a few species. Hopefully this report will provide the clarity needed for Parties to better understand the state of the trade and subsequently how to protect big cats in their national legislation.”

Sarah Ferguson, TRAFFIC Conservation Crime Convergence Coordinator

Demand for tigers appears to be driving the mostly illegal trade in other parts of big cat species, and there are concerns about the captive breeding of the legal trade in live specimens.

TRAFFIC supports the Draft Decision establishing the CITES Big Cat Working Group, which would allow Parties to coordinate strategies to combat illegal trade in all species of big cats from Africa, Asia and Latin America .