Chinese conservation efforts to save the South China tiger (2023)

In 1997 a study was conducted on the decline and impending extinction of the South China tiger. The conclusion of the scientists was indeed very black and depressing. The scientists concluded that no wild South China tiger had been seen by officials in the wild for 25 years. The last one to be brought into captivity at that time was 27 years earlier.

Some more black news was that the 19 reserves listed by the Chinese Ministry of Forestry included habitat which was and is fragmented. The fragmented sections were too small to support a viable tiger population. The reserves were useless in terms of tiger conservation.

They stated that "over the last 40 years wild populations have declined from thousands to a scattered a few".

They also confirmed that there were some occasional sightings of tigers in China but apparently no "intensive field study" had been conducted on the South China tiger and its habitat. At that time the captive population of tigers was 50.

The South China tiger at that time was almost extinct and in a precarious position. Scientists felt that saving the captive tiger population was all they could hope to achieve an even that was increasingly becoming less probable.

Jump forward to a further study dated December 21, 2021 and the long list of authors are more optimistic about the survival of the South China tiger.

They found that the South China tiger had reasonable genetic diversity. They concluded that the captive South China tigers in China were not inbred and there was "limited genetic admixture from other tiger subspecies". I take that to mean that the South China tigers in captivity in China are fairly pure. They are perhaps purebred or somewhere near it.

That's interesting because a lot of people think that Bengal tigers in captivity in China are simply hybrids and generic tigers. The reason is because they are captive at tiger farms where they are bred for their meat, bones and skins like cattle. But they appear to have kept the subspecies of tiger endemic to China in better condition in terms of genetic diversity.

The also state that at that time there were more than 200 South China tigers in the country (in captivity). And they hope that with continued conservation efforts they will have success in conserving and preserving this subspecies of tiger in the same degree that they have had success in the conservation of the giant panda. 

I have written about the giant panda recently. It may interest you. The conservation of the giant panda has gone well although that species too was very near extinction at one time.

One last point, all South China tigers are considered to be the descendants of one wild-caught tigress from Fujian and five wild-caught tigers from Guizhou between 1958 and 1970 (2 lineages). This is quite a small foundation cat population. They are convinced that their study results confirm the existence of these two lineages.

They recommended "a genomics-informed management of these two genetic ancestors, to minimise a further loss of the unique and critical genetic variants but a potential increase in the inbreeding load across all South China tiger populations."

Breeding programme in captivity. Screenshot.

The Red List state that the South China tiger is "Critically Endangered". This is what you would expect and it has been that way for a very long time. The Cambridge University Press echoed what the earlier study that I mention above mentioned namely the decline and impending extinction of the South China tiger. Their article was published on April 24, 2009.

The people involved in the conservation of the giant panda still believe that in the long term they can re-wild parts of China with the giant panda. It's makes you wonder whether those involved with a similar process of conservation can achieve the same objective with respect to the South China tiger and get the animal out of captivity at some stage and into the wild, their natural habitat. If that happens it is going to need a culture change from the citizens of China because the near extinction of this subspecies of tiger is ultimately down to its persecution by the Chinese living in China.

There have been some extraordinary events in order to stop this subspecies of tiger going extinct. In 2007, a Chinese website reported that one South China tiger was exported to South Africa to mate with a South China tiger living in that country. There were going to mate outside in the wild environment and then be returned to China. China's Suzhou South China Tiger Reserve volunteered the male tiger for the mating mission. At that time, it was believed that there were fewer than 100 in existence in China with about 10-30 in the wild.

Some more from ChatGPT on the topic

The South China tiger is one of the most endangered big cat species in the world, and it is estimated that only about 20 to 30 individuals remain in the wild. The Chinese government has taken several steps to try to save the South China tiger from extinction, including:
  1. Captive breeding: The Chinese government has established several captive breeding programs for the South China tiger. The goal of these programs is to breed healthy tigers that can eventually be reintroduced into the wild.
  2. Habitat protection: The Chinese government has designated several protected areas for the South China tiger, including the Dafengtou National Nature Reserve in Fujian Province and the Wangqing Nature Reserve in Jilin Province. These protected areas help to preserve the tiger's natural habitat and prevent further destruction.
  3. Anti-poaching efforts: The Chinese government has implemented strict laws and regulations to prevent poaching of the South China tiger. The killing, selling, and buying of tigers and their parts is strictly prohibited, and violators can face severe penalties.
  4. Education and awareness: The Chinese government has launched education and awareness campaigns to raise public awareness about the importance of protecting the South China tiger and its habitat. The government also works with local communities to promote sustainable development and reduce human-wildlife conflicts.
Despite these efforts, the South China tiger remains critically endangered, and much more work is needed to save this species from extinction. However, the Chinese government's commitment to protecting the tiger and its habitat is a positive step in the right direction.


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