Exposed: the dark reality of profit-driven wildlife farms

Press release

Research by World Animal Protection highlights the billions of wild animals suffering on wildlife farms, bred for pets, tourism, hunting, fashion and traditional medicine. Wildlife farms place humans at risk from zoonotic diseases.

Wildlife farms place humans at risk from zoonotic diseases

An estimated 5.5 billion wild animals are being kept in cruel conditions on commercial wildlife farms, new research by World Animal Protection reveals.

Published today, the charity’s Bred for profit: The truth about global wildlife farming report reveals for the first time the vast scale of this exploitative industry in which billions of wild animals are bred to be traded as pets, used for entertainment or tourist attractions, and turned into ornaments, luxury food, fashion products or traditional medicine (TM).

Researchers found an astonishing lack of transparency and inadequate monitoring across the global multi-billion-dollar industry, where sentient animals are treated as mere components in a cruel production line. Through a long history of working across many of these exploitative industries, World Animal Protection know that large numbers of wild animals suffer from malnourishment, disease, stress-induced behaviours, injuries, infected wounds - and even cannibalism.

The report, compiled using Freedom of Information requests and other research, also details how the high numbers of animals living in cramped, unhygienic conditions put their caretakers and the public at risk of zoonotic diseases - potentially to pandemic proportions.

Our research found very little evidence to support claims by some conservationists that breeding programmes fulfil the demand for wildlife products and reduce pressure on wild populations.

Shockingly, some captive wildlife populations are now larger than those living free.

Case studies in the report detail some of the industries where urgent action is needed – including:

  • Bear farming in China - where some 20,000 bears are farmed for their bile on dozens of farms to sate the demand of the US$1 billion bear bile industry in China.
  • Elephant breeding in Thailand - where the majority of nearly 3,000 elephants are bred in captivity and used in 246 venues for tourism, generating between US$581 to US$770 million annually. Between 2010 and 2020 the number of elephant venues increased by a staggering 134%.
  • Lion and other big cat farming in South Africa – where approximately 8,000 big cats are bred at 366 known facilities and used for multiple purposes in the U$43 million industry, including for tourist entertainment, trophy hunting and body parts exports to Asia for TM.


Launching our global Wildlife Not Profit campaign, World Animal Protection’s Wildlife Campaign Director, Nick Stewart said: 

Whether it be for the pet industry, trophy hunting, entertainment, traditional medicine, decoration, or fashion – cruel wildlife farming must end now. Wild animals have the right to a life in their natural habitats. Governments, the private sector, and us as consumers must prioritise efforts to ensure that wildlife is protected in their natural habitats. The public must also be guarded against the very real threat of zoonotic diseases from wildlife farms.

Stewart added:

This must be the last generation of wild animals farmed for profit. Wildlife is not ours to exploit, and we can all play a part in protecting animals from cruel commercial exploitation. Join us in saying no to the cruel farming of wild animals.

Call to goverments

World Animal Protection is urging governments worldwide to take immediate action by implementing a comprehensive and timely phase out of commercial wildlife farms and associated trade.

Additionally, we are calling for increased support for alternative livelihoods for those communities currently involved in the wildlife farming industry, to ensure a just transition away from these harmful practices.

Call to the public

Members of the public are encouraged to support our Wildlife Not Profit campaign by supporting our demand to end wildlife farming.

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Get in touch

For more information and to arrange interviews with the report researchers and our experts on elephant, bear and lion farming, please contact Global Media Manager, Peter Simpson:

· Records show at least 900 million wild animals have been bred to suffer a life in captivity and die to supply the demand of commercial industries. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The true scale of this exploitative industry likely extends to as many as 5.5 billion wild animals globally. This is a best estimate on available data.

· Our investigators found record keeping poor across the wildlife farming industry and much data is hidden from public view, and governments are keen to dodge responsibility. We conducted an online review of the scientific literature using an academic journal database to retrieve relevant publications. Additionally, we searched non-academic sources, including government documents, reports from technical specialist groups such as those operating under the IUCN, NGO reports, reputable media outlets, commercial breeding facility websites, and relevant open access databases [for example the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Register of operations that breed Appendix-I animal species for commercial purposes].

· We also submitted Freedom of Information requests to several government authorities requesting wildlife farming data (e.g. permits or records). We submitted FOIs in countries where World Animal Protection have operating offices and local staff, which were the following 11 countries: Australia (submission per each state authority), Botswana, Brazil, Canada (submission per each provincial authority), India, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Data was also obtained from Denmark and The Netherlands, although this information was available open access to citizens online or from relevant government officials and therefore did not require an FOI request.

· The USA was excluded due to a lack of relevant agency that has oversight of commercial wildlife farming and a patchwork of applicable regulations that differ between species and locations.

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