Tigers in China

According to China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) there were only around 50 tigers left in the China’s wilderness: around 20 Siberian tigers remain in China’s north-east, 20 Bengal tigers in Tibet, and 10 Indochinese tigers in the southwest of the country. The WWF estimates that if poaching and other threats continue, tigers will be extinct within 30 years. (here)

South China Tiger – Wikipedia

The South China tiger or South Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis), also known as the Chinese, Amoy, or Xiamen tiger, is a subspecies of tiger native to the forests of Southern China. The South China tiger is one of the smaller and it is the most critically endangered of any of the living tiger subspecies. Experts maintain that there are fewer than 20 of these tigers left in the wild, and warn that it might become extinct within the next decade. One was recently born in a reserve in South Africa in November 2007, the first to be born outside China. In October 2007, the forestry department of Zhenping county, Shaanxi published photographs of P. t. amoyensis in its native habitat, but these were later debunked after an investigation. The South China tiger is considered to be the “stem” tiger, the subspecies from which all other tigers descended. The South China tiger has been recently listed as one of the world’s 10 most endangered animals.

Persecution and extinction of Chinese tigers

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the South China tiger was distributed in southern China and Hong Kong. The last known contact in Hong Kong was reported in 1947. In 1959, Mao Zedong, in the time of the Great Leap Forward, declared the tiger and other predators such as leopards and wolves to be pests and “enemies of the people”; as a result, several “anti-pest” campaigns started.[7] The tigers then were considered pests because they attacked farmers and villagers.[8] Becoming widely persecuted, their wild population of the South China tiger fell from more than 4,000 to less than 200 by 1982.[9] The Chinese government then reversed the classification of the tiger, banning hunting altogether in 1977, but this seems to have been too late. The South China tiger has not been seen in the wild for more than 20 years.[10] Today the estimated population of the South Chinese subspecies is 20-30 individuals found only in the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang. Tigers still found in southeast China belong to the Indochinese Tiger subspecies.

Save China’s Tiger homepage, information regarding the rewilding project

The Chinese tiger (commonly known as South China Tiger or Panthera tigris amoyensis) is the most endangered of the five remaining subspecies of tiger and it is believed to be the origin of all the tiger subspecies. In the early 1950s, there were 4,000 tigers in China. Due to human elimination and habitat destruction, there are less than one hundred left on earth today (estimated between 10 and 30 in the wild, and about 60 in Chinese zoos)!

The Chinese Tiger used to be a plain animal living all over central and south China, but has been pushed by humans out throughout the past few thousand years and slowly retreated to more remote and mountainous areas south of the Yangtze River. It is a highly adaptable tiger and managed its prosperous existence until humans took over their last bit of land-the mountains.

Saving China’s tigers: too little, too late? – Telegraph Blogs

Sumatran tiger: Indonesia sells tigers to the rich

The Year of the Tiger is fast approaching – the lunar new year is this weekend – which has been cause for a lot of soft reports about how China is mounting a last-ditch attempt to ‘save the tiger’, of which it has only about 30 left.

But before looking at whether that’s a realistic ambition, first, a quick recap of how the wild tiger has been driven to the edge of extinction in China.

The story goes thus. In about 1890 there were estimated to be about 1,800 tigers distributed mostly in the tropical southeast (home to the ‘southern tiger) and a smaller number of the larger Amur tigers in the frozen northeast where China meets Russia north of Vladivostok.

Over the next 30 or 40 years the numbers were decimated by poaching and hunting so that by the time war broke out with the Japanese in 1937 there were only about 500 tigers left.

Miraculously, despite all the clear-cutting of forest and a decade of upheaval and conflict, by 1949 when the Communists came to power China, still had more than 200 wild tigers.

Perhaps surprisingly, that number held steady – in fact marginally increased – until 1980 when China began it’s ‘opening up’.

Unfortunately economic growth heralded a catastrophic decline in for China’s tigers whose habitats were built on, mined, logged and bisected with roads and railways so that by 1990 numbers were down to below 50 where they have remained ever since.

China backs down from plan to legalise tiger trade

The sale of bones, skins and other body parts was banned in China in 1993 in order to protect the country’s declining tiger population. There are currently only between 18 and 24 wild tigers in China, down from over 4,000 in the 1950s.

However, officials from the State Forestry Administration (SFA) were on the verge of scrapping the ban last year, following pressure from China’s tiger farms, who are keen to sell their stockpiles of farmed tiger parts.

How to Rewild Tigers So They Can Live in the Wild Again?

We can only return captive tigers to the wild from second generation onwards. So it will take at least five to six years before Chinese Tigers can be returned home to the wild.

According to Swiss scientists Urs and Christine Breitenmoser who have worked many years with Eurasian Lynx, a cat’s behaviour depends on three factors: genetic embedding, individual learning, and tradition. For example, a cat is born to hunt. But if it lost its mother before it learns to hunt from her, it would not know how to hunt effectively and will perish in the wild without its mother as a coach. Some cats learn to hunt better than others, depending on their learning abilities.

Tigers must start their rewilding training when they are young. This is the stage where they are young enough to learn new things. In the wild, tigers learn everything, particularly how to hunt, from their mothers. But we do not have that luxury when we take them out of zoos. Therefore, we would have to design different ways of letting them regain their hunting abilities.

Like a domestic cat that dashes after any moving object, a tiger would do the same instinctively. However, simply chasing after anything moving in the wild without ensuring a good chance of success will wear the tiger out, and futile attempts like this can eventually lead to his death from starvation. That is where humans come in. The humans can use different methods to coach the tigers to learn that the toy they have played or killed is actually their food. The tigers must also learn to hunt appropriate prey animals. Errors of judgment, such as hunting something too large while the tiger is too small or unskilled, can result in serious injuries and lead to death from an inability to hunt and feed in the wild.

Tigers will also learn to associate hunting with food during Rewilding training. Otherwise, they would be just like my cat Wawa who caught a mouse but only played with it till the mouse escaped. Tigers that live in the wild can not afford to make such mistakes.

Some people say that cats are inherent hunters and do not need to be taught. Of course, some cats are naturally able hunters. From his experience with orphaned pumas, Dr. Koehler said that out of the three orphaned pumas he released into the wild one survived while the other two died. That is, 33% of the cats that have not learned to hunt from their mothers or from rehabilitation project can survive according to this statistic. The others, unfortunately, do not possess the skills to hunt and starve to death.

If we had enough zoo-born Chinese tiger cubs to take this risk, we could skip the rewilding work and just put them into a wild environment, hoping one fourth or one third of them would survive, but we do not have that luxury. There are less than sixty of them left. We can not take any chances. We must make sure that every single Chinese Tiger survives.

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