Animal Identification

Stock theft used to be a capital offence – until the death sentence was declared unconstitutional, you could be hanged for stealing another’s livestock. (The word ‘capital’ comes from Latin, meaning ‘head’ – and, in the early days, execution meant beheading by the sword, axe or guillotine).

It has been authoritatively estimated that, during the 2017 financial year, stock theft cost the South African economy R1.3 billion, with over 29000 cases of stock theft reported.1 This phenomenon hits developing farmers just as hard – if not more so – than the established farm barons.

The Animal Identification Act 2002 goes some way to address the issue, in providing for the identification (marking) of animals, and matters relating thereto. It is administered by the Minister of Health.

‘Marking’ means to place an identification mark on an animal. For the purposes of the Act, however, it excludes marks on the horn, or hoof; marks made with paint; tags (etc.) attached to the ear; notches and holes. That leaves good old-fashioned branding and tattooing.2

A. Marking operators

Any person who wants to mark animals for financial gain must be registered with the Department of Agriculture.

  1. It is an offence to mark animals for financial gain without being registered as a marking operator.3

  2. It is an offence to make a false statement in any application for registration.4 5

  3. If you are registered as a marking operator, you must keep a register of all animals you have marked. It is a crime not to do so.6

B. Markings

  1. It is an offence to have an animal in your possession which is marked otherwise than as permitted by the Act.7

  2. All animal owners must apply for their identification marks to be registered (and must mark animals in the manner prescribed by regulation). The Registrar will issue a certificate of registration of the mark (if the application complies with the requirements of the Act) and any person who alters this certificates commits an offence.8

  3. It is an offence not to mark animals in the prescribed manner.9

Permissible characters for marking animals

Permissible characters for marking animals10

C. Restricted activities

  1. No one may alter, mutilate or cancel an identification mark on an animal, and it is a crime to do so.11

  2. It is a criminal offence to sell an animal:
    • on which an ear has been cut off;12 or
    • on which the identification mark has been altered, mutilated or cancelled.13
  3. If you acquire an animal with an identification mark, you may not sell or dispose of it for a period of 14 days unless you furnish an identification document to the purchaser. It is an offence if you do.14

  4. After a period of 14 days, you may not sell or dispose of the animal unless it has been marked with your identification mark, and you have furnished the identification document to the purchaser. It is an offence if you do.15

D. The Registrar and officials

  1. It is a crime to hinder or obstruct an officer in the execution of his duties, or exercise of his powers under the Act.16

  2. It is an offence to pretend to be the Registrar or a person authorised under the Act to do something.17

  3. If you refuse or fail to produce any livestock (or anything else) which is in your possession or under your control when required to do so under the Act, by the Registrar, or any police official, you commit a criminal offence.18


  2. See Regulation 10 of Government Notice R1683 of 21 November 2003. 

  3. Section 16(l) read with section 11(1)(a). 

  4. Or, for that matter, in any application made in terms of the Act. 

  5. Section 16(j). 

  6. Section 16(a) read with section 11(1)(c). 

  7. Section 16(b). 

  8. Section 16(h) read with section 5(2)(c). 

  9. Section 16(i) read with section 7(b). 

  10. This is a list of the permissible characters for devising marks with which to brand or tattoo animals – Regulation 2 of GN Reg. 1683. There are also places on the animal, and dimensions, prescribed for the marking. 

  11. Section 16(e). 

  12. Section 16(e). 

  13. Section 16(d). 

  14. Section 16(i) read with section 7(2)(a). 

  15. Section 16(i) read with section 7(2)(b). 

  16. Section 16(f). 

  17. Section 16(k). 

  18. Section 16(g).