TIGERS IN CHINA
South China tiger Conservationists estimate that there are less than 400 tigers left in China today. These tigers are members of three sub species: Bengal, South China and Northeastern (or Manchurian, similar to the Siberian tiger). The rarest are the South China tigers.
The number of Bengal tigers in China is unknown. They live primarily in Xishuangbanna Autonomous region in the Yunnan Province along the Myanmar and Laos border.
A man named He Guangwei, who lives in Mengxian County on the Yellow River in Henan Province, reportedly made his living by catching tigers and other large animals barehanded using martial arts techniques. In his 50 year career he has reportedly caught 230 leopards, seven tigers, 700 wild boars and 800 wolves. If attacked he advises people to go for the face. "You have to kick the animals quickly and hard in vulnerable places like the ears and belly," he says. "But this usually kills the animal, so I don't do it unless my life is at stake...A quick hard blow will make its eyes water, and it stops to rub them, but the blow must be sharp and accurate—if several blows aren't effective, you're in trouble.”
Although China's wild tiger population is tiny, thousands of the animals are bred in captivity each year. Forestry bureaus are responsible for conservation and receive the bulk of funds related to this end. China's tiger farmers, who have bred more than 5,000 animals, are pushing for a relaxation of the ban on the trade of tiger parts in the hope of selling bones and penises for traditional medicine. Siberian Tiger Forest Park in Harbin has more than 700 Siberian tigers. Part of their “survival training” involves setting loose a calf and then releasing a half dozen tigers to chase it down.
Tigers Wikipedia article on the South China Tiger Wikipedia ; Save China’s Tiger savechinastigers.org ; South China Tiger in Africa Video YouTube ; National Geographic article on Saving the South China Tiger nationalgeographic.com ; Fake Photos chinadaily.com.cn ; Indian Tiger indiantiger.org ; Siuth China Tiger Info lion_roar.tripod.com ; Pangolins Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; African Wildlife Foundation awf.org ; Theatened Pangolin Video YouTube
On Wild Animals in China: Living National Treasures: China lntreasures.com/china ; Animal Info animalinfo.org ; ARKive (do a Search for China or the Animal Species You Want) arkive.org Animal Picture Archives (do a Search for the Animal Species You Want) animalpicturesarchive Endangered Animals in China ifce.org/endanger ; Animals Asia Campaign to Help Animals animalsasia.org ; Plants in China: Flora of China flora.huh.harvard.edu ; Plant Meaning and Symbolism Chinatown Connection
Links in this Website: ANIMALS AND PLANTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PREHISTORIC ANIMALS AND DINOSAURS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PANGOLINS, DEER AND TIGERS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; SNUB-NOSED AND GOLDEN MONKEYS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PANDAS Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENDANGERED PANDAS Factsanddetails.com/China ; ALLIGATORS, RIVER DOLPHINS AND GIANT SALAMANDERS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CRANES, CORMORANTS AND OTHER BIRDS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN ANIMALS AND PLANTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; SNOW LEOPARDS Factsanddetails.com/China ; SHAHTOOSH AND CHIRUS Factsanddetails.com/China ; YAKS Factsanddetails.com/China ; PETS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DOGS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE DOG BREEDS Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA NO. 1 Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA NO. 2 Factsanddetails.com/China ; ANIMAL PARTS AND CHINESE MEDICINE Factsanddetails.com/China
South China Tigers
The South China tiger is believed to be the oldest of all tigers and the tiger from which all other tigers descended. They are so rare that no photograph of them in the wild is available. They measure 2.64 meters from the end of their nose to the tip of their tail and weigh an average of 75 kilograms. Females are about 20 kilograms lighter than males.
The South China Tiger hasn't been seen in the wild for more than 20 years. These tigers have a low birth rate. Unlike the Manchurian and Bengal tigers, which are found in other countries, the South China tigers are found only in China.
There were about 4,000 South China tigers in the 1950s, when they were fairly common in Hunan, Fujian, Guishou and Jiangxi provinces in southern China. During the 1950s and 60s many of the animals were killed in an "anti-pest" campaign of Mao Zedong and the rest have been claimed by deforestation and unregulated hunting. Today the last remaining South China tigers are found in the forested mountains of southern Hunan and northern Guandong.
South China Tigers Today
There are thought to be only 25 to 50 South China tigers remaining in the wild. They live in four disconnected enclaves of mountain forest in southern China, mostly in Hunan province. It is unlikely they will survive much longer. Some think the species will die out in the wild by 2010. It was declared extinct by one conservation group in 2002,
There are only about 60 to 70 South China tigers in zoos. Some have been born at the Suzhou Zoo. A special reserve is being set up for them in southern China that was scheduled to open in 2008 as a tie in with the Olympics in Beijing.
A South China tiger was reportedly photographed by a farmer in October 2007 in a mountainous area of Shaanxi in northwest China. Many had thought the subspecies had died out in the wild. It had been a couple decades since one had officially been spotted. After close scrutiny on the Internet, many thought the photo was a fake—perhaps a paper tiger manipulated with Photoshop—created by forestry officials to draw tourists to Shaanxi. In the the photograph was determined to be a fake and the official behind it was sent to prison.
Effort to Save the South China Tiger
Lahu Valley Reserve, an 81,000-acre (33,000 hectare) sanctuary and training center for the South China tiger has been set up in Free State, South Africa by a Beijing-born former fashion executive named Li Quan. The tigers in the sanctuary were born in Chinese zoos and have been placed in a 62-hectare bush enclosure, where they are taught to hunt, and then moved to a 600-hectare camp. The plan is to reintroduce the tigers in the wild—Born Free-style—and help resurrect the South China tiger in the wild in this way. The ‘rewilding project’ has the backing of the government in Beijing and several mostly Chinese celebrities, including the actors Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh, director Chen Kaige and entrepreneur David Tang.
Tigers in animal park
Qian is married to American investment banker Stuart Bray who has helped bankroll her “rewilding” project, which thus far has cost about $12 million. Lahu Valley Reserve is comprised of 17 former sheep farms located in a dry and dusty part of the Karoo area of South Africa. The fairly open and rocky landscape is quite different from forested areas the tigers live in in China. The Karoo area of South Africa was selected as the site of the program because China lacks the habitat and the conservation expertise to pull off such an endeavor. China was supposed to have an area ready for the tigers with sufficient habitat and game in Hunan or Jiangxi province in 2007 but as of 2008 the people that lived in the area had not been moved out.
Quan has been criticized and even ridiculed by animal conservation groups, who say the money that has been spent on the program would be better spent on saving the habitat of tigers that exist in the wild. Judy Mill of Conservation International has called Qian’s project “a circus sideshow dressed up as ecotourism” and called Qian “a wealthy dilettante” who “feels as if she has done something.”
Another tiger is named Madonna. It is not clear whether Tiger Woods or Madonna have approved the use of their names. Critics claim the project is an expensive distraction from protecting the tiger species in their natural habitat. The same criticism has been levelled at China's captive breeding of pandas and other endangered species.
Five South China tigers have been brought to Lahu Valley Reserve. All learned to hunt wild South African game and were fed freshly-shot springboks. After two years one died of heart failure and pneumonia. Another was seriously bitten by a baboon and got dangerously dehydrated. Another took some time to get over her fear of the swaying grass and often sought out a cage where she felt safe. A cub that was born had to be rescued from her mother who did not know how lick the cub dry or keep him warm.
The tigers have spent four years ‘learning’ how to mate and to kill guinea fowl, antelope and blesbok. A ranger with the Lahu Valley project told the Los Angeles Times, the tigers “have no mother to teach them to pluck the feathers off a guinea fowl or break open a springbok, They hope to learn by trial and error. The first couple of kills have to be quite easy. Then you make the process more difficult.”
As of April 2008, three cubs had been born at Lahu Valley. The cubs were born to two females and fathered by a male tiger who appears to have been aroused to perform by the arrival of another male.
Manchurian tigers feeding in an animal park
Amur Tigers and Manchurian Tigers
The population of the Amur tiger which can grow to three meters in length and 300 kilograms is estimated at 18 to 22 (2010). The Amur tiger is also known as the Siberian tiger.
An estimated 15 to 20 Manchurian tiger, called the northeastern tiger in China, are left in China with another dozen or so in North Korea. Five or six tigers have been counted in Hunchun Nature Reserve in the Jilin Province in northern China. They will probably become extinct soon in the wild but can be seen in zoos in Korea, Russia and China.
The Manchurian tiger is either a close relative of or the same as Siberian tigers. They once ranged across Manchuria and Korea, with Siberian tigers living in eastern Russia. Chinese say many tigers fled to Russia because of a fires in northern China in the 1980s and 90s but have since returned. Now it is said there is so little food for the tigers they resort to eating frogs to survive.
Between 2007 and 2010 there has been more than 120 reported tiger attacks on farm animals and one human death. Compensation has been increased. Che Jinxia, the last woman to survive an attack, received more than 50,000 yuan (about $8,000), a record. In the early 2000s, a woman was mauled to death by a Manchurian (Siberian) tiger in the Hunchun Nature Reserve. The tiger had been injured in a poachers trap and conservationists say it probably wouldn’t have attacked the women if it hadn’t been hurt. The tiger was found next to the woman. It’s injury was mended by a veterinarian and returned to the wild.
The Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin specializes in research and breeding of Siberian tigers. At last count it had over 700 tigers. At the park tigers are thrown chickens and goats as spectators applaud.
Year of the Amur Tiger
China marked year of tiger in 2010 with a multimillion-dollar scheme to protect Amur tiger funded by the Chinese government, World Bank and NGOs. Since the last tiger year, in 1998, the wild population of the animal worldwide has almost halved to about 3,200 due to habitat loss, economic development and poaching for hides and traditional medicine. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 7, 2010]
Describing a conservationists looking for tigers around Hunchun in the slopes and valleys near the North Korean border, Jonathan Watts wrote in the The Guardian, “ Taking turns to act as human ploughs, Liang Jianmin and his tiger survey team forge through mile after mile of knee-deep snow in the mountain forests near China's frozen mountain border with Siberia. From dawn to dusk they track, looking for droppings, paw prints, bark scratchings, scraps of fur caught on twigs and fences, any sign that the Amur tiger the biggest cat species in the world is still alive in the wilds of China... while in Russia, zoologists and conservation groups trudge through the taiga forest with the same goal.” [Ibid]
The Guardian has learned that the World Bank, NGOs and the Chinese government are discussing a three-stage, multimillion-dollar scheme to protect the Amur tiger. Measures will include acquiring land for expanded reserves, linking tiger communities, relocating residents, training local officials and reconfiguring forestry management to allow for sustainable economic use and cohabitation by predators and prey species. [Ibid]
The survey in Hunchun and Siberia is a preliminary step that shows an unprecedented level of co-operation between China, Russia, the World Bank and conservation groups. In the first week, the team found a piece of tiger fur caught on a fence, and droppings and sightings of the main prey species wild boar and sika deer as well as snares and traps left by poachers. [Ibid]
In November 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian Prime Minister Vladamir Putin agree to cooperate to save the world’s tigers and pledged to join the international effort to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2020.
Threats to the Amur Tiger
Many Amur tigers are isolated from one another by roads and railways, making it difficult for them to breed. The conservation group WWF warns that the animal may be extinct in the wild in China within three decades if current trends continue. The tiger is the group's priority for 2010. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 7, 2010]
The main threat to Amur tigers comes from economic development, which intrudes into the tiger's habitat. In some places it takes the form of roads or railways; elsewhere, it is logging, mines and frog farms. [Ibid]
“Infrastructure construction has blocked the tiger's migration channels and the rising population density has eaten into the tiger's territory,” Wu Zhigang, of the Jilin Science Academy told The Guardian . “We must restore these channels by building elevated roads or tunnels.” [Ibid]
Protecting the Amur Tiger
Wu, one of China's leading tiger experts, said the government was drawing up plans for a tiger-friendly model of forestry management that would be presented at a forum in the spring. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 7, 2010]
The Wildlife Conservation Society is also trying to foster tiger eco-tourism in the region, partly through the launchof an annual Hunchun tiger festival. It will be expanded this year with a conservation marathon, exhibitions, forums, screenings and tiger-themed essay and art competitions. [Ibid]
“We want to appeal to nature lovers by showing that the tiger habitat is an ideal environment,” Sun Quanhai, the local director of the society. Told The Guardian “Hunchun's forest coverage exceeds 80 percent. The local government have realized the importance of conservation and decided to make Hunchun the 'tiger town' of China.” [Ibid]
Discovery of an Amur Tiger Cub
“The first Amur tiger cub to be found in the wild in China in at least 20 years has died less than two days after being discovered. Authorities covered up the death, which casts a shadow over what was potentially the best conservation news the country has had for decades.” [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, March 1, 2010]
“Early on the morning of 25 February, Han Deyou, a forester in the Wanda mountains in the northern province of Heilongjiang claimed to have discovered a wild tiger cub trapped in a pile of firewood in his yard. Afraid of its roars and aggression, he called local police and forestry officials, who fed the captive animal beef and chicken as they waited for wildlife experts from a tiger breeding center to arrive in the remote area the following morning.” [Ibid]
“The tiger was anaesthetised with a dart, taken away and detained in the jail of the local public security bureau. Experts confirmed it was a Siberian tiger, weighing 28.5kg and thought to be about around nine months old. Regional media said the cub had probably sought shelter after being separated from its mother in the unusually deep winter snows.”
“Local authorities hailed the discovery as an ‘explosively’ important development, according to the Northeast China Net website. There are only about 20 tigers left in the wild. According to regional media, no cubs have been found since the founding of the People's Republic of China more than 60 years ago, though conservationists say records are unreliable before the 1990s.” [Ibid]
“The discovery of the young tiger appeared to show that the animals were still breeding in the wild, the best possible news at the start of a year in which the government, World Bank and conservation groups plan to invest heavily in a new program to save the biggest cat on the planet.” [Ibid]
Questions About the Discovery and Death of theAmur Tiger Cub
“But the case was quickly shrouded in mystery, tragedy and secrecy. Ma Hongliang, the propaganda chief of The East Is Red Forest Bureau, told the Guardian that the cub is dead, but the news has been withheld. He has advised Central China Television and other domestic journalists not to report the death because of possible negative publicity. He declined to answer questions about the time and cause of death. Experts tried their best to save the cub,’ he said. ‘It was too weak to survive.’” [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, March 1, 2010]
“The full details of the case have yet to emerge. It could yet prove a sad, but essentially positive indication of the potential for the remaining wild tiger population to breed. Alternatively, it may raise fresh doubts about eco-fraud among a public that has become cynical about conservation claims. In 2008, forestry officials in Shaanxi province endorsed a photograph of a South China tiger, which suggested the animal until then assumed extinct was still alive. It was quickly proved a fake.” [Ibid]
“The financial incentives for such duplicity are substantial because the existence of wild tigers improves the prospects for tourism and the possibility of conservation funds. But conservation groups said there was reason to believe the latest case may be genuine. “‘From the information we have, I think it might be real,” said a conservationist, who declined to be named. “This area has been monitored for a long time. Locals have previously reported seeing a tiger and a pup.” [Ibid]
In 2009, “a dead female tiger was found trapped in a snare. The trapper a frog farmer was caught. It is not likely to be the mother of the dead cub because tigers are dependant on their mothers for two years. But conservationists were upbeat about the prospects for more cubs...if the mother can avoid snares.” [Ibid]
Tiger Bones and Medicine
Tiger bone medicine According to an article in China Today magazine: "The tiger is a kind of treasure. The hide of the tiger can be made into an expensive coat. The bones, the kidneys, the stomach and the penis are very valuable medicine. The medicine from the ribs of the tiger is a very good and effective medicine for curing rheumatoid arthritis."
See Chinese Medicine
Fur, See Endangered Cats, World Animals.
Through the 1980s there was not a large demand for tiger parts and the stockpile of tiger parts was enough to meet the demand for traditional Chinese medicine. In the previous years the market was supplied by thousands of Chinese tigers killed as pests and threats to human life. For a while there was an even a glut of tiger bone products.
When the stockpiles became exhausted in the 1980s the amount poaching began to dramatically increase and took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s when tigers were poached at a rate of one a day, primarily to supply to supply the Asian tiger medicine and product market.
One of the biggest factors bringing about the sharp decline in the number of tigers has been the rising income in Asians. Many more people in countries like China, Korea, and Taiwan, who couldn’t before, now can afford expensive tiger medicines, which has created more demand and caused prices to rise on the supply end.
These days many Chinese and Koreans have been educated about the costs of the tiger-based medicine but at the same time many more who are not educated about such matters or don't care are getting money to buy tiger-based medicines.
China and the Tiger Bone Trade
One reason so many tigers were poached in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that many Chinese could afford tiger-based Chinese medicines as the Chinese economy began to take off.
Between 1990 and 1994, China reportedly exported more than 70 tons of tiger bones from 5,600 tigers (more than the number of tigers that remain in the wild). During the winter of 1993 it was estimated that about one quarter of the population of 400 rare Amur Siberian tigers were killed, and nearly as many were killed in the winter of 1994.
Some people in China have suggested raising tigers in captivity—tiger farming if you will—to supply the traditional medicine market, but conservationist argue that this wouldn't work because there is no way to tell the difference between bones from captive and wild animals.
Today, there are reportedly tiger farms in Manchuria. In December, 2002, one hundred rare Bengal tigers were donated by Thailand to China. There were reports in newspapers that the tigers were going to be raised like cattle for meat. One newspaper reported that a place called “Love World” on Hainan Island planned to offer tiger meats dishes while people watched tigers roaming around. Government officials said there was no truth to the reports.
The Chinese desert cat lives in an area of China that stretches from the Tibetan plateau to the mountains in Sichuan to Inner Mongolia. An elusive creature, it is slightly larger than a domestic cat and has dense yellowish gray fur, slightly tufted ears and feet that are protected by tufts of fur growing between the pads.
The Chinese desert cats lives in variety of environments—mountains, forests and steppes—but usually not deserts. Little is known about their diet and social and breeding behavior. They are more often spotted in cages in Sichuan markets than in the wild.
Amur leopards, see Russia
Image Sources: 1) Chinese Academy of Sciences; 2) Kostich; 3,5) Julie Chao http://juliechao.com/pix-china.html ; 4) Tooter for Kids; 6, 7) WWF
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2011