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Exposed: The grim reality for 5.5 billion wild animals on profit-driven wildlife farms

World Animal Protection 3 mins read
Pictured; Investigative images obtained of otters in a captive breeding farm in Malang, Indonesia. The farm is suspected to be laundering wild caught otters to supply the exotic pet market as well as a chain of interactive otter cafes in Japan.

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

The research cautions that wildlife farms are placing humans at risk from zoonotic diseases.

The new report reveals:

  • A staggering 5.5 billion wild animals including elephants, lions, bears, and crocodiles are being farmed globally
  • Shockingly, some captive wildlife populations are now larger than those living free, including Australia’s native saltwater crocodiles, with an estimated 135,000 languishing in farms in the Northern Territory, compared to about 100,000 in the wild
  • Wildlife farms are exposing animals - including bears, lions and elephants - to disease, malnourishment, trauma, injuries, and even cannibalism.  
  • There are nearly 3,000 elephants bred in captivity in 246 camps for use in tourism, generating between US$581 to US$770 million annually. Between 2010 and 2020 the number of elephant venues increased by a staggering 134%.

The report has been released globally as the organisation launches a global campaign to end commercial wildlife farming and associated trade.

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.

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

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.

World Animal Protection’s Head of Campaigns, Suzanne Milthorpe said:

"The global wildlife farming industry operates in a shadow of secrecy, lacking transparency and adequate oversight. This multi-billion-dollar industry treats sentient animals as commodities, subjecting them to unimaginable suffering on a daily basis.

“Wild animals endure malnourishment, disease, stress-induced behaviours, and even cannibalism in cramped and unhygienic conditions. Shockingly, some captive wildlife populations now exceed those in the wild, this should be a wake-up call to the global community on the scale of this issue.

“In Australia, 135,000 native saltwater crocodiles are suffering in farms in the Northern Territory, exceeding their estimated population in the wild. Similarly, thousands of elephants and big cats are bred into captivity for tourism around the world, contributing to a cycle of cruelty. “

World Animal Protection is urging governments worldwide to take immediate action by implementing a comprehensive and timely phase out of commercial wildlife farms such as those across the Northern Territory. Animal groups also want to see the revised Australian Code of Practice for farmed crocodiles to consider the latest research in animal welfare, recognising the sentience of crocodiles.

“Even in supposedly well-managed facilities, profit often takes precedence over animal welfare. It is disgraceful for wild animals to endure such misery for industries like the pet trade, trophy hunting, tourism, traditional medicine, or in Australia’s case, high-end handbags." Milthorpe concluded.

Australians are encouraged to call on the Federal Government to end the cruel crocodile skin trade.

About us:

World Animal Protection is the global voice for animal welfare, with more than 70 years’ experience campaigning for a world where animals live free from cruelty and suffering.  Our work to protect animals will play a vital role in solving the climate emergency, the public health crisis, and the devastation of natural habitats.  

Contact details:

For more information and to arrange interviews with the report researchers and our experts on elephant, bear and lion farming, please contact Sandra Sopin at or 0435 957 773.


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