South China tiger

The South China Tiger, supposedly the “stem species” from which all other tiger species evolved, has not produced white tigers though the historic ranges of the Amur and South China tigers may have overlapped resulting in inter-breeding.

This subspecies, also known as Xiamen or Amoy tiger, is right now in extremely critically dangerous situation and it is believed that it will positively become extinct very soon. It is so highly endangered that no live animal has been observed in natural habitat in the last 25 years, but it is believed that 10-30 tigers are still left in the wild. The last kno wn was shot dead in 1994. In 1959 the animal was declared “pest” which resulted in its large scale persecution. In 1977, Chinese government reversed the law. According to the 1995 South China Tiger Studbook the captive population of 48 South China tigers is confined to 19 Chinese zoos and secondly, they are all descendant of 6 tigers.

Also known as South Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) it is found in the forests of Southern China. One was recently born in a reserve in South Africa in November 2007. It is the first to be born outside China. It has been listed as one of the world’s 10 most endangered animals.

The animal is one of the smallest tiger subspecies. Males are about 2.6 m (8 ft) long, from head to tail, and weigh about 150 kg (330 lb). Females are smaller growing up to 2.3 m (7 1/2 ft) and weighing approximately 110 kg (240 lbs). The short, broad stripes on the body are spaced far apart compared to those of Bengal and Amur tigers.

Like all other subspecies South Chinese tigers too are pure carnivores. They prefer prey ranging between 30-400 lbs and have been known to eat livestock like goats and cows in the past when their population was much higher. Being expert hunters they stalk and follow their prey for hours. Their average speed is around 35mph, faster than most of their prey species, but like cheetahs they also do not have enough stamina to maintain the top speed for long. They kill their prey with a bite at the back of the neck (usually for medium-sized prey).

Tigers declared pest by China

Until the beginning of 20th century this cat was found in southern China and Hong Kong. The last known contact in Hong Kong was reported in 1947. In 1959, Chinese leader Mao Zedong, in the time of the Great Leap Forward, declared tigers along with other predators, like leopards and wolves as pests and “enemies of the people”; as a result, several “anti-pest” campaigns were launched. They were declared pests because they attacked farmers and villagers. Due to large scale killing their wild population fell from 4,000 plus to less than 200 by 1982. In 1977 Chinese government reversed the classification of tiger and banned its hunting altogether, but this was too late.


Since 1990, China’s State Forestry Administration has been leading the efforts to save this tiger through the establishment of special Nature reserves for left over tigers whose number in the wild is believed to be around 10-30 individuals. A field survey conducted in 1987 by Chinese scientists showed a few tigers remaining in the Guangdong Mountains on the border of Hunan and Jiangxi. Another survey done in 1990 recorded evidences of about a dozen animals in 11 reserves in the mountains of Guangdong, Hunan, and Fujian Provinces of South China, however, no tigers were seen. Country’s few captive tigers are now part of a centrally registered studbook in an attempt to save South China tigers from becoming the fourth subspecies to be registered as extinct. Before the work could be started there was an impression that the captive population was too small and lacking in genetic diversity for any repopulation program to be successful. This notion proved wrong after the start of the central register as more and more of these tigers have been identified in zoos across China. This has rekindled the hope of saving the South China tiger from becoming extinct and re-establishing them in the wild.

Captive breeding

The available stock of these tigers has descended from only six wild-caught tigers (about 120 descended from 30 wild-caught tigers would be closer to the ideal). Last time a wild tiger was brought into captivity was 20 years ago. In an effort to re-establish South China tiger population in the wild, one group is trying hard to ‘rewild’ captive population on a reserve in South Africa. The word “rewilding” is new to the vocabulary of conservation. It came into existence in 2003 when a conservationist and ex-carnivore manager of Pilanesberg National Park Gus Van Dyk first used it to translate a Chinese term most appropriately. He chose to adopt the term “rewilding” to describe Save China’s Tigers rewilding project of the South China Tiger. Since then, this term is being used by wildlife organizations throughout the world.

The purpose of Rewilding Project in South Africa is to reintroduce Chinese tigers into the wild. The agreement calls for establishing a Chinese tiger conservation model through the creation of a pilot reserve in China where the South China Tiger along with the other indigenous wildlife will be reintroduced. Save China’s Tigers aim is to rewild the highly endangered South China Tiger by bringing a few captive-bred animals to South Africa for rehabilitation training so that they can regain their hunting instinct. At the same time, a pilot reserve will be set up in China. The offspring of the trained tigers will be released into the pilot reserves in China, while the original animals will stay in South Africa to continue breeding. Finally the tigers selected and sent to South Africa as part of the project were born in captive conditions, in concrete cages and their parents are all captive individuals that are unable to sustain in the wild.

South Africa was chosen because it is capable of providing expertise and resources, land and game for the tigers. The Tigers covered under the project have since been successfully rewilded and are fully capable of hunting and surviving on their own. The project is also successful in breeding of these rewilded Tigers and as a result 5 cubs have been born. These cubs of the 2nd generation would learn their survival skills from their successfully rewilded mothers directly.

A workshop held in October 2010, in Laohu Valley reserve in South Africa to examine the progress of the rewilding and reintroduction program of Save China’s Tigers has confirmed the role of Rewilding captive populations to save the South China Tigers. It was attended by renowned tiger experts, biologists and environmentalists, Chinese government scientists and representatives of Save China’s Tigers. “Having seen the tigers hunting in an open environment at Laohu Valley Reserve, I believe that these rewilded tigers have the skill to hunt in any environment.” Dr. David Smith of Minnesota University remarked. Furthermore, the project recovered natural habitat both in China and in South Africa during its attempt to save and reintroduce South China Tigers back into the wild.

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