Captive Gharial's Gavialis gangeticus at the Royal Chitwan National Park and Gharial Breeding Center in Nepal © Karine Aigner / WWF-US

captive breeding preventing unsustainable trade and the stimulation of illegal demand

Captive Gharial's Gavialis gangeticus at the Royal Chitwan National Park and Gharial Breeding Center in Nepal © Karine Aigner / WWF-US


captive breeding: our perspective and priorities

In some cases, captive breeding of wildlife is conducted ethically and sustainably, preventing detrimental sourcing from the wild. Many reptiles, amphibians and fish are captive bred for the pet trade, which can contribute to the protection of wild populations. 

Unfortunately, there are many circumstances where captive breeding is conducted illegally and/or unsustainably, either contributing to illegal trade or stimulating unsustainable consumer demand.


tigers are believed to be held in tiger farms in Asia

evidence to influence on captive breeding

Captive breeding of wildlife has occurred for generations, varying by purpose and species across the world.

There are many documented scenarios where it has been a force for good; conducted ethically and helping to protect the survival of wild populations. However, there are numerous cases where we have observed the opposite effect. Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus farming in Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam was shown to be not only driving unsustainable trade in bear bile and other products, but contributing to the illegal trapping of wild populations. Our perspectives on captive breeding are formed on impartial research and analysis within the context of sustainability and the preservation of natural biodiversity.

tiger farms in Asia

Tiger farming is the practice where captive tigers are bred for the purposes of trading in their products, whether skins, bones, teeth or skulls.

Current estimates place the number of tigers in breeding farms as between 7,000 and 8,000, predominantly in China, Viet Nam, Thailand and Lao PDR, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency. In 2016, Thai authorities raided an infamous Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province that had been suspected of illegally breeding and trading in tigers. Over 130 live tigers, more than 40 dead tiger cubs, tiger pelts and 1,500 tiger skin amulets were among the wildlife products seized. The infamous tourist attraction was subsequently shut down although announcements have since been made to open a similar facility nearby.

Tiger farms pose a direct threat to efforts to increase wild populations, perpetuating consumer demand for tiger products (particularly for "wild-sourced" products) across key markets in Asia, as well as undermining enforcement and monitoring efforts aimed at analysing and preventing the trade in tigers.

At the CITES CoP17, Thailand, Lao PDR and Viet Nam, alongside China, were urged to provide a clear timeframe for the phasing out and final closure of these facilities.

TRAFFIC fully supports such recommendations, pushing for commitments to shut down all tiger farms across Asia to reduce their contributions to illegal trade, and the obstacles they pose to the recovery of wild tiger populations.

reptile captive breeding

A significant variety of reptiles are captive bred in breeding facilities the world over. Such operations supply diverse wildlife consumer markets, including the global pet trade or the leather goods industry. The practice of captive breeding, when conducted within scientifically reached regulations and ethical standards, can contribute to the preservation of wild populations, who might otherwise become threatened through overexploitation or poaching.

Eastward Bound, a recent TRAFFIC study analysing the trade in CITES-listed species between Africa and Asia, found that 1.3-million live animals and plants, 1.5-million skins and two thousand tonnes of meat were exported between Africa and Asia since 2016. Captive breeding of reptiles, including Nile Crocodiles Crocodilus niloticus and Leopard Tortoise Stigmochelys pardalis, occurs throughout African nations, with exports of reptile skins occurring particularly from Zimbabwe. 91% of all exported reptile skins from Africa to Asia were of Nile Crocodile.

An analysis of commercial breeding of Tokay Geckos Gekko gecko in Indonesia in 2015 questioned the viability of captive breeding operations given the go-ahead to produce millions of live Tokay Geckos a year for export. The volumes allowed by existing permissions far exceed what could be viably produced from captivity, meaning the deficit would likely be sourced from the wild.

There are many such examples the world over, and close monitoring is essential to ensure that captive breeding operations do not overflow to illegal or unreported wild sourcing, especially given the threatened status of many of the world's reptiles in demand for the pet, leather goods, or meat trade.