South China Tiger: critically endangered or already extinct?



by LORENZO CIOTTI

South China Tiger: critically endangered or already extinct?

The South China tiger, Panthera tigris amoyensis, was formerly very numerous in the high temperate forests of South China. Today the estimated population of the southern Chinese subspecies is around 60-90 individuals living only in the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang.

The tigers that still live in southeastern China belong to the Indochinese subspecies. Today its vast range has dwindled to three isolated areas of south-central China, where small, elusive populations are said to still live in the mountains on the borders between the various provinces.

As with the black-footed ferret, one of the major factors in the decline of the South China tigers has been the destruction of their key prey animals. Two other major factors contributing to this decline were poaching and fragmentation of populations.

South China tigers, like other tiger subspecies, live in thick jungles and also like to spend time in the water. The few tigers kept in captivity in China are currently part of a studbook registered for the purpose of saving this tiger from becoming the fourth tiger subspecies to go extinct in modern times.

A studbook had already been established in the past and this captive population was thought to be too small and lacking in genetic diversity for any successful reintroduction programme, but after the establishment of a central registry many more South China tigers.

On October 5, 2007, a South China tiger attacked a cow and shortly before, on September 13, the body of an Asian black bear was found killed and eaten by a tiger, both in Zhenping County. On October 11, 2007, photographs of a tiger taken by Zhenglong Zhou, a villager near Ankang city in China's Shaanxi province, were sent to the Shaanxi Provincial Forestry Bureau.

If these are true, it would be the first sighting of a South China tiger in the wild in this province, specifically in the Qinba Mountains. However, some doubts have been raised regarding the authenticity of these digital photos.

A Panzhihua resident found that a tiger poster on his wall at his house showed a tiger in the same position as the one in Zhou's photos, including details of the animal's stripes. The maker of the poster was identified as Yi Wei Si Poster and Packaging Company of Zhejiang Province, which had released the image five years earlier.

A large number of Chinese tiger cubs will be selected in zoos in China and sent to a 300 square kilometer reserve near the city of Philippolis, South Africa, where they will be trained to hunt on their own; afterwards, the cubs of the trained tigers will be released in pilot reserves in China, while the farmed tigers will remain in South Africa to continue breeding.