Tiger News

The South China Tiger

Did you know that there are only around sixty South China tigers left in Chinese zoos and that none have been seen in the wild for over twenty years?

"I’ve never even heard of the South China tiger!" I hear you cry…don’t worry you’re not alone.

Of the eight subspecies of tiger, three are now extinct. The Bali tiger was wiped out from the effects of deforestation and poaching in the 1940’s, the Caspian in the 1970’s and the Javan tiger in the 1980’s. The remaining five are the Bengal, Siberian, Sumatran, Indochinese, and the South China tiger. Of these the South China tiger, (pantheris tigris amoyensis) or Amoy also known as Xiamen or the Hunan tiger and thought to be the antecedent of all tigers, is the closest to extinction yet unbelievably receives the least amount of attention and funding. The tigers we see on TV and in books are usually Bengal, Siberian, or Sumatran it is very unlikely that you will have seen a South China tiger in a documentary or even in a photograph.

Due to the many captive breeding programs it is unlikely that tigers will ever become extinct, the high profile of the Bengal and Siberian subspecies has secured interest and funding lifting the numbers in captivity to the extent of excess. Unfortunately the South China tiger has had no such exposure and has been left to rely on a few dedicated conservationist and researchers who have carried on with the thankless and seemingly impossible task of saving this subspecies from extinction.

Most of the remaining captive South China tigers are old or diseased due to inbreeding and malnutrition, and have descended from only eight founders. This is probably why many experts have given up on them. The high profile Panda breeding program has successfully nurtured the panda population back to around a thousand. The wild Siberian tiger population has risen from 250 to 300 in five years, and in the last century the white South African rhino was revived from only fifty to a staggering 10,400. This would suggest that it is never too late.

In the late 1950’s there were approximately 4,000 South China tigers in the wild, ironically in 1959 when the Siberian tiger was acknowledged as an endangered species, the South China tiger was declared a pest by the Chinese government and a bounty was placed on its head. The species was hunted mercilessly for the next twenty years, which along with the destruction of its habitat has placed this mysterious creature at the very top of the endangered species list. A survey in 1991 headed by Dr Gary Koehler and funded by the Chinese government and the WWF, showed evidence of wild tigers but no positive sightings, so experts have had to rely on anecdotes and alleged sightings by local villagers. Last year there were rumors of a male, a female, and three cubs being spotted in the wild and possibly another male, but it is also alleged that poachers shot what many believe to be the last one in 1984. Officially none have been sighted for over twenty years, but some experts believe there to be around twenty still scattered around the southeastern provinces.

In 1984 the practice of tiger hunting in China was made illegal, the problems facing the South China tiger now are illegal poaching to fuel the demand of tiger parts for use in traditional Chinese medicines (see my article Fools Medicine), and the relentless tide of the human population. In the spring of 2001 the first part of a survey funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Fund, the Chinese government and the WWF,The Tiger Foundation and headed by the respected tiger expert Dr Ronald Tilson (in conjunction with The Tiger Foundation)(named the tiger foundation team because ron is chairman of tiger foundation) was undertaken in an attempt to census the remaining wild tigers. Although no tigers were sighted many telltale signs were recorded. In November 2001 part two of the survey began in Hunan and was this time funded by the Save China’s Tigers charity. For updated results of the surveys visit www.5tigers.org For a copy of the South China tiger Action Plan go to
www.savechinastigers.org or www.andymcdermott.com.

The good news is the Chinese government is now totally committed to saving the South China tiger. Extensive education programs for schools and villagers are taking place, money is being used to reclaim agricultural land and relocate families that surround the reserves in an attempt to increase the wild tiger’s territories and widen the corridors that link them together. An attempt to eradicate poaching by enacting new laws and punishments and implementing the help of locals as watchdogs while at the same time instilling a pride in the knowledge that they can help restore a natural treasure, are all extremely positive actions.

What can we do to help save the South China tiger? Visit the web sites of the tiger charities working to help the wild tigers such as Save Chinas Tigers, and those listed on The Tiger Chase web site, read books dedicated to the conservation of the wild tiger and learn as much as you can about its sad plight. See what’s being done and what can be done. You can make a donation, or you may wish to subscribe to their newsletters or magazines, or even enter a wild tiger adoption program.

When we think of animals becoming extinct we think of a bygone age when man plundered the worlds resources without knowledge of the consequences, yet three subspecies of tiger have become extinct in the last fifty years, the fourth could join them at the very beginning of this century. The plight of all tigers in the wild is critical, it is estimated that Bengal tigers are still shot by poachers and villagers at the rate of one a day. If serious intervention isn’t taken soon we could lose the wild tiger forever in as little as five years time.

When we think of past generations we think of ignorance, we have the technology to prevent the extinction of one of the most precious animals on earth yet we do very little, what will future generations think of us?

By Andrew McDermott author of The Tiger Chase

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Copyright © Andrew McDermott 2002