South China tiger
|South China tiger|
|Subspecies:||P. t. amoyensis|
|Panthera tigris amoyensis
|South China tiger range|
The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is a tiger subspecies that was native to the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi in southern China, and has been classified as critically endangered by IUCN since 1996 as it is possibly extinct in the wild. There is a small chance that some individuals are still extant. But already in the late 1990s, continued survival was considered unlikely due to low prey density, widespread habitat degradation and fragmentation, and other human pressures. No official or biologist has seen a wild South China tiger since the early 1970s, when the last verified record is of an individual brought into captivity.
Since the 1980s, the South China tiger is considered a relict population of the "stem" tiger, living close to the possible area of origin. Morphologically, it is the most distinctive of all tiger subspecies.
In 1905, the German zoologist Max Hilzheimer first described the South China tiger as similar in height to the Bengal tiger, but differing in skull and coat characteristics. Their carnassials and molars are shorter than in his Bengal tiger samples; the cranial region is shorter with orbits set closer together, postorbital processes are larger. Their coat is lighter and more yellowish; the stripes are narrower, more numerous and more sharp-edged.
The South China tiger is the smallest tiger subspecies from mainland Asia, but bigger than the subspecies known from the Sunda islands such as the Sumatran tiger. Male measure from 230 to 265 cm (91 to 104 in) between the pegs, and weigh 130 to 175 kg (290 to 390 lb). Females are smaller and measure 220 to 240 cm (87 to 94 in) between the pegs, and weigh 110 to 115 kg (240 to 250 lb). Greatest length of skull in males is 318 to 343 mm (12.5 to 13.5 in), and in females 273 to 301 mm (10.7 to 11.9 in).
The skulls described by Hilzheimer originated in Hankou. The historical range of South China tigers stretched over a vast landscape of 2,000 km (1,200 mi) from east to west and 1,500 km (930 mi) from north to south in China. From the east they ranged from Jiangxi and Zhejiang Provinces at about 120°E westward through Guizhou and Sichuan Provinces at about 100°E. The most northerly extension was in the Qinling Mountain and Yellow River area at approximately 35°N to its southern extension in Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces at 21°N.
In the early 1950s, the South China tiger was reported to number more than 4,000 individuals in the wild when it became the target of large-scale government ‘anti-pest’ campaigns promulgated by Mao Zedong’s ‘Great Leap Forward’. The effects of uncontrolled hunting were compounded by extensive deforestation and probable reduction in available prey, large-scale relocations of urban populations to rural locations leading to fragmentation of tiger populations and increased vulnerability to local extinction from stochastic events. By 1982, only an estimated 150–200 South China tigers remained in the wild.
By 1987, the remnant population of wild South China tigers was estimated at 30–40 individuals, so that danger of extinction was imminent. During a survey in 1990, South China tiger signs were found in 11 reserves in the mountains of Sichuan, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi and Fujian Provinces, but these data were insufficient to estimate population size. No tigers were directly observed; evidence was limited to sightings of tracks, scrapings and reported sightings by local people.
In 2001, field studies were carried out in eight protected areas encompassing 2,214 km2 (855 sq mi) in five provinces of south-central China using camera traps, GPS technology and extensive sign surveys. But no evidence of tigers was found. No scats observed by the field team could be positively verified as being from tigers. Evidence for possible tiger prey species was found in five locations.
There may still be some surviving South China tigers in the wild, with reports of tracks and local people sightings from Qizimei Mountains Nature Reserve, Hubei Province and in Yihuang county of Jiangxi Province. In May 2007, the Government of China reported to the CITES Secretariat that there is no confirmed presence, and declared the goal to reintroduce South China tigers to the wild.
Ecology and behavior
Tigers are obligate carnivores. They prefer hunting large ungulates, frequently kill wild pig, and occasionally hog deer, muntjac and Gray langur. Small prey species such as porcupines, hares and peafowl form a very small part in their diet. Due to the encroachment of humans into their habitat, they also prey on domestic livestock.
In most cases, tigers approach their victim from the side or behind from as close a distance as possible and grasp the prey's throat to kill it. Then they drag the carcass into cover, occasionally over several hundred meters, to consume it. The nature of the tiger's hunting method and prey availability results in a "feast or famine" feeding style: they often consume 18–40 kilograms (40–88 lb) of meat at one time.
In 1973, South China tigers were classified as protected by controlled hunting. In 1977, they were classified as protected, and hunting them was prohibited.
The non-governmental organisation Save China's Tigers, with support of China’s State Forestry Administration has developed a plan to reintroduce captive-born South China tigers into large enclosures in southern China. The main concerns regarding the reintroduction are the availability of suitable habitat and adequate prey, and the fitness of the captive population. Landscape-level conservation of wilderness habitat and recovery of wild herbivore populations as prey base for the tiger will be required. A suggested eventual goal was to establish at least three populations, with each population consisting of a minimum of about 15–20 tigers living in a minimum of 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi) of natural habitat. Cooperative field surveys and workshops have been carried out to identify suitable recovery areas.
At the 14th Conference of the Parties to CITES in 2007, an end to tiger farming and stopping domestic trade in farmed tiger products in China were called for.
As of March 1986, 17 Chinese zoos kept 40 purebred South China tigers in their collections, including 23 males and 14 females, none of which were wild-born. All were third or fourth generation descendants of one wild Fujian tigress and five Guizhou tigers. Notable problems included uneven sex ratio and improper pairing.
In 2005, the captive population of South China tigers consisted of 57 individuals that showed signs of inbreeding, including reduced genetic diversity and a low rate of successful breeding. In 2007, the global captive population consisted of 72 individuals; there are few captive South China Tigers outside China. Few seem to be "pure" South China tigers as there is genetic evidence of cross-breeding with other subspecies.
One cub was born in a reserve in South Africa in November 2007, the first to be born outside China. Since then, a number of cubs have been produced.
China's captive South China tigers are now part of a centrally registered studbook. Before a studbook was established it was thought that this captive population was too small and lacking in genetic diversity for any re-population program to be successful, but since the start of the central register more and more South China tigers have been identified in zoos across China.
The word "rewilding" was coined by conservationist and ex-carnivore manager of Pilanesberg National Park, Gus Van Dyk in 2003. Gus Van Dyk, who in an effort to find the most appropriate translation of the Chinese term "野化", chose to adopt the term "rewilding" to describe Save China's Tigers rewilding project of the South China tiger. Since then, the term "rewilding" has been widely used by wildlife organisations worldwide.
Rewilding Project in South Africa
The organisation Save China's Tigers, working with the Wildlife Research Centre of the State Forestry Administration of China and the Chinese Tigers South Africa Trust, secured an agreement on the reintroduction of Chinese tigers into the wild. The agreement, which was signed in Beijing on 26 November 2002, calls for the establishment of a Chinese tiger conservation model through the creation of a pilot reserve in China where indigenous wildlife, including the South China tiger, will be reintroduced. Save China's Tigers aims to rewild the critically endangered South China tiger by bringing a few captive-bred individuals to South Africa for rehabilitation training for them to regain their hunting instincts. At the same time, a pilot reserve in China is being set up and the tigers will be relocated and release back in China when the reserve in China is ready. 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.
The reason South Africa was chosen is because it is able to provide expertise and resources, land and game for the South China tigers. The South China tigers of the project has since been successfully rewilded and are fully capable of hunting and surviving on their own. This project is also very successful in the breeding of these rewilded South China tigers and 14 cubs have been born in the project of which 11 survived. These cubs of the 2nd generation would be able to learn their survival skills from their successfully rewilded mothers directly.
It was hoped that in 2012 the first second-generation tigers born at South Africa could be released into the wild.
Reaction to the project
Recently, scientists have confirmed the role of rewilding captive populations to save the South China tiger. A workshop was conducted in October 2010 in Laohu Valley Reserve in South Africa to assess the progress of the rewilding and reintroduction program of Save China's Tigers. The experts present included Dr. Peter Crawshaw of Centro Nacional de Pesquisa e Conservacão de Mamiferos Carnivoros, Cenap/ICMBIO, Dr. Gary Koehler, Dr. Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Dr. Jim Sanderson of Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation, Dr. Nobuyuki Yamaguchi of Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences of Qatar University, and Dr. David Smith of Minnesota University, Chinese government scientists as well as representatives of Save China's Tigers.
The tigers in question were born in captive conditions, in concrete cages, and their parents are all captive animals who are unable to sustain themselves naturally in the wild. The cubs were sent to South Africa as part of the Save China's Tigers project to rewilding and ensure that they would regain the necessary skills needed for a predator to survive in the wild.
Results of the workshop confirmed the important role of the South China Tiger Rewilding Project in tiger conservation. "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 remarked. Furthermore, Save China's Tigers recovered natural habitat both in China and in South Africa during their attempt to reintroduce South China tigers into the wild.
The goal is of preparing tigers born in captivity for introduction to wild habitat in China where tigers once lived seems to be very possible in the near future based on the success of the rewilding and reintroduction program.
Establishment of South China tiger reserves in China
Since 2001, Save China’s Tigers South African team has been working with the Chinese State Forestry Administration to identify locations for the reintroduction of the rewilded South China tigers. Nine sites from four provinces were surveyed using 36 ecological parameters. Two candidate sites were selected in Jiangxi and Hunan province in early 2005. The State Forestry Administration approved the sites by end 2005. Owing to the remarkable progress of Save China’s Tigers Rewilding project subsequently in South Africa, the Chinese authorities were further encouraged and decided to look for sites within the nature reserves where there would be fewer human population relocation issues in order to quicken the return of the South China tigers. In early 2010, a government scientific team identified an interim test site and three final sites, which are now awaiting approval from the relevant central government department. Save China’s Tigers’ scientific team is working with the Chinese authorities on the preparations in terms of fencing technology, re-stocking prey, and building tiger and wildlife management expertise.
Possible evidence of wild South China tigers survival
On 5 October 2007, a supposed South China tiger attacked a cow and on 13 September, a body of an Asiatic Black Bear possibly killed and eaten by a South China tiger was found, both in Zhenping County.
In October 2007, a hunter has published a set of photographs of a South China tiger that he claims were taken in the Daba Mountains. Subsequently, a month later, a tiger picture poster appeared in the public domain. The result has been a controversy over the authenticity of photographs; the tiger photos being widely believed to be copied from the tiger picture poster. However, upon analysis of all the photos, it is concluded that the tiger in the photos is a 3-dimensional, animate object, suggestive of a living tiger have been photographed from the mountain. Comparing the poster tiger with the photo tiger, it appears that the poster tiger is an artificial monster that had been copied and modified from the photo tiger. As good news, the wild South China tiger has not been extinct.
The villager from Zhenping County in Ankang City, Shaanxi Province of China, claimed to have risked his life by taking more than thirty digital photographs of a tiger. The Shaanxi Provincial Forestry Bureau then held a press conference, backing up Zhou's claim. If true, this would be the first record since 1964 of South China tigers in the wild in Shaanxi Province's Qinba Mountains.
However, the photographs aroused suspicion, with many expressing doubts about the authenticity of the digital picture. A resident of Panzhihua discovered that the tiger poster on the wall of his home shared the same features as the tiger in Zhou's photos, including the details of the animal's stripes. The manufacturer of the poster was identified as the Yi Wei Si Poster and Packaging Company of Zhejiang province, who had published the image five years previously. In a statement issued on 23 November 2007, the Shaanxi Province Forestry Bureau said that they still "firmly believed" Wild South China tigers to exist in the province. Yet on 4 February 2008, the Shaanxi Province Forestry Bureau released an apology, qualifying their earlier statements but without repudiating the pictures' authenticity, saying "We curtly released the discovery of the South China tiger without substantial proof, which reflects our blundering manner and lax discipline." Nevertheless, the statement was not conclusive on whether the Bureau still stands by its view that the picture is genuine.
In June 2008, the authorities have announced to the press that all pictures published were proven to be forged, and the related officers have been punished, or even removed from their posts. The photographer himself, Zhenglong Zhou, has been arrested for suspicion of fraud. This officially ended the South China tiger scandal, however, public concern about the corruption in Shaanxi Province Forestry Bureau and Shaanxi Government may still last. Many believe that Zhou is merely a puppet, and the local officers pursuing funds from the central government in the name of tiger research and preservation, as well as tourists' interest to the area are the real thread pullers.
Although the Shaanxi Government has officially declared the forgery, there are still some people believing Zhenglong Zhou risked his life and found the evidence of live South China tiger. Liyuan Liu, an associate professor in the College of Life Science, Beijing Normal University, said that he would never believe the photographs were fake. He also illustrated that Zhenglong Zhou could not have taken the photos of the footprints using the props retained by the Shaanxi Police. The first person who claimed to find the poster told the medium that it was bought before the Spring Festival in 2001. Moreover, there are many evidences that the tiger in Zhou's photos was moving.
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|External identifiers for Panthera tigris amoyensis|
|Encyclopedia of Life||1271371|
|Also found in: Wikispecies|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Panthera tigris amoyensis|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Panthera tigris amoyensis|
- Save China's Tiger homepage, information regarding the rewilding project
- A video of the rare South China tiger hunting, the tigress in this video is from the Save China's Tiger re-wilding project
- National Geographic article documenting Save China's Tiger project
- A video of a South China tiger named Hope tackling a blesbuck