Sheba tiger

Rassie Erasmus and his pet tiger Sheba that was killed on Wednesday morning 18 January 2023.
Image via Facebook: Rassie Erasmus

Death of Sheba: It’s dead-easy to own a pet tiger in SA…

SA’s Tiger Kings: The killing of Sheba has thrusted into the spotlight again how easy it is to get your own pet tiger, especially in Gauteng.

Sheba tiger

Rassie Erasmus and his pet tiger Sheba that was killed on Wednesday morning 18 January 2023.
Image via Facebook: Rassie Erasmus

Before the controversial killing of Sheba the tiger by authorities this week, there were an estimated 1500 tigers in captivity in South Africa. As of Wednesday, the count now sadly stands on 1499…

The eight-year-old exotic pet of Midvaal resident Rassie Erasmus was euthanised on Wednesday morning around 02:00 when the tigress was caught in a massive search hunt.

Sad ending for Sheba the tiger

Midvaal resident and Sheba former owner in his tiger enclosure. Image via Facebook: Rassie Erasmus

EWN reported that Sheba roamed around Walkers Fruit Farms, in Walkerville, south of Johannesburg, after the big cat escaped from her enclosure in Midvaal on Saturday 14 January. The tiger attacked 37-year-old William Mokoena and killed his dog and a pig at the weekend.

Gresham Mandy, from the Walkerville Community Policing Forum (CPF), told IOL it was not an easy decision, but after Sheba killed another dog on Tuesday evening, the tracking team, which included Sheba’s owner, was notified.

“On Wednesday morning around 1.55am reports were received of activity on the Arboretum Farm in Walkers Fruit Farms. This location is 2km from where the tiger Sheba was last known to be roaming,” Mandy said.

“She had entered a farm area with six dwellings, with families living there. Sheba attacked and killed one of the domestic animals and a call was made for urgent assistance.”

ALSO READ: RIP Sheba: Remember Max, Shamba who also died in captivity?

No permit needed to keep exotic animals as pets

The killing of Sheba ignited a massive outrage with animal rights organisations once again questioning the regulations regarding keeping exotic animals such as tigers as pets without permits in some residential suburbs.

According to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, in Gauteng, the North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo no permit is required for the legal possession or keeping of an exotic wild animal.

ALSO READ: Sheba the tiger incident proves risks of keeping wild animals as pets, SPCA says

Remember the Boksburg nursery school tigers?

In October 2021, two white tigers being kept as pets behind a nursery school in Boksburg caused quite the stir at the time. The discovery of the two sitting on their own jungle gym and keeping a watchful eye on the children next door, saw the SPCAFour Paws and the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) step in.

However, the organisations were left with their hands tied as the owners, Matthew and Anneline Kruger, have apparently complied with all the regulations in Gauteng regarding the keeping of exotic animals on their premises.

ALSO READ: Neighbourhood watch: Footage of SA’s own ‘Tiger Kings’ surfaces

Matthew and Anneline Kruger’s two white tigers that are kept behind a Boksburg creche. Image: Facebook/Bunny Park Rescue Group/TikTok/Anneline Kruger

Precious little protection for SA pet tigers

According to Four Paws director Fiona Miles tigers sadly have very little protection under South African law, despite being considered an endangered species with only 4500 remaining in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“The main reason, currently, for the lack of protection of tigers is that they are not indigenous to South Africa and do not hold the same protective rights as other native big cats, such as lions, leopards or cheetahs,” Miles explained.

How to get a tiger in Gauteng as pet

The requirements to own any exotic animal in Gauteng is set by Nature Conservation, a division of the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“All persons or companies who import, export, trade in, keep, possess, collect, pick, convey, transport or hunt listed wild animals and wild plants in Gauteng, must apply for permits with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nature Conservation,” reads the government website.

It is dead-easy to get a pet tiger it seems: All you need to do, is complete the correct application form, attach your proof of payment and wait 15 working days for the application to be processed.

Loophole in legislation

NSPCA wildlife unit manager Doug Wolhuter told 94.7 at the time of the outcry against the keeping of the Boksburg pet tigers, that there is a loophole in legislation.

By-laws for wild animals do not prohibit keeping an exotic animal as a pet in Gauteng, according to The Citizen. As mentioned by Miles, it is only illegal to keep a wild, indigenous animal such as a lion, for example. 

It is further reported that an import permit is only needed if the tiger was purchased in a different province. The chief director of sustainable environment in Gauteng, Loyiso Mkwana, said the department did not have an import permit for the tiger’s owners in this regard.

This means that if the transaction was legal, the tigers were likely purchased from within the Gauteng province…without a permit. 

If the tiger’s owners were to breed or re-sell tigers, they would require additional permits to do so, according to chief director of sustainable environment in Gauteng, Loyiso Mkwana.

With the death of Sheba, it is clear this legal snag is still a gaping loophole…