South China Tigers

by Michael
(London, UK)

South China Tiger - photo published under a Wikipedia Commons license

South China Tiger - photo published under a Wikipedia Commons license

Nov. 2009: Are south china tigers extinct? That must be the first question. Well the best people to ask must be the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) people. After all they are meant to be at the sharp end of species survival in the wild. The answer is that we do not know. True. It is classified as critically endangered or possibly extinct in the wild by the Red List . It is perhaps probably extinct.

This cat is the most likely to be the next tiger subspecies to become extinct in the wild. Today, there would seem to be less chance of a species becoming totally extinct as we seem to be preparing for extinction in the wild by creating captive tiger populations. We are resigned to seeing the tiger in captivity almost. These are the Red List classification codes for South China tigers:

red-list-critically-endangered

red-list-extinct-in-the-wild


Above: South China tiger - photo http://english.savechinastigers.org

South China tigers are extinct in 12 of the 14 countries where it used to be found but people still claim to see it from time to time but these are unconfirmed reports. A report in 1990 by Gary Koehler indicated that the tiger existed but it is, today, accepted that it almost certainly does not.

Population size declined rapidly from a weak base from the 1950s to the 1980s:

The captive South China tiger population is inbred (57 exist as at 2005, which have been bred from 6 – source) and not purebred! Is there any point in pretending that it is the same animal? There seems to be a failure by the Chinese authorities to admit that they do not care sufficiently to manage this wild cat species successfully (e.g. (i) a failure to stop poaching (ii) a failure to adopt alternative components for traditional Chinese medicine (iii) allowing this cat to be persecuted as a pest for decades through “large scale tiger eradication campaigns…” source). By the 1980s 3,000 skins had been collected (Sunquists).

It is probably better to simply focus on ensuring that the captive breeding program preserves this tiger intact and as pure as possible.

The Chinese government wants to rewild this tiger. But how? They do not have purebred South China tigers anywhere it seems plus they are inbred and the tiger’s habitat and prey base has been so decimated as to make it unlikely that it will be suitable. Without wishing to be negative, it is too late. Something should have been done decades ago. I cannot believe that the government is actually serious about this project. It is a complete U turn. Perhaps it is a public relations exercise. This idea is supported by a local authority misrepresentation in which a local authority in China tried to show that the tiger still existed in the wild (see source and here

(link broken)). The BBC reported it. This all happened about 2 years ago. Photos of a tiger were allegedly taken in a northern Chinese province, Shaanxi, which I do not understand bearing in mind this this the South China tiger.

Interestingly the Wikipedia author says that one was born in South Africa, a continent which tigers have never inhabited. Is this part of the Chinese project to train captive South China tigers to hunt prey in Africa and then ship them to China a release into the wild? Not sure but it all looks haphazard to me – sorry.

Plus if they are not pure it is not a South China tiger. There is obviously a difference of opinion here.

This cat is also called the Chinese, Amoy, or Xiamen tiger and its habitat was the forests of south China.

This subspecies of tiger is (was) smaller than the others. In fact it is the smallest of all the tiger subspecies:

Tiger Species Weights lbs (Wikipedia®)
Indochinese Average male 420
Siberian Males: 419 to 675
Bengal Average male 488
South China Males about 330

This subspecies looks very similar to other tiger subspecies and I discuss the appearance of the tiger here: Siberian Tiger Picture

Chinese Medicine

We have to be realistic and honest. China is not a good place for a tiger to live. This is mainly because of the Chinese medicine market. Tigers are poached to supply the manufacturers of this medicine. Tiger bone is thought by many Asian people to have a variety of medicinal benefits. 25 products contain tiger bone. As long ago as 1985 there were 110 pharmaceutical factories producing tiger bone products. As at 2002 these were the prices of tiger bone and other tiger “products” (sources: Sunquists and tigersincrisis.com):

Tiger Product Price $ USD per Kg Place Date
Bone 130 Nepal 2002
Bone 130-175 Vietnam 2002
Bone up to 300 Russia 2002
Bone 140-370 South Korea, Taiwan 2009
Penis Soup 320 (price per bowl?) Taiwan 2009
Humerus bone up to 3190 Seoul 2009
Eyes (2) 170 Taiwan 2009

The humerus bone is the upper forelimb bone and the tiger’s forelimbs are very powerful to grab and hold prey. There are chemical substitutes for real tiger products. Tiger body parts should be banned from Chinese medicine but it is not and how the Chinese authorities can, on the one hand claim to wish to rewild the tiger in their country and on the other hand authorise the use of tiger bone and parts in medicines is beyond me. I would expect that the attempts to rewild are simply designed to create a fresh supply for the medicine. A lot of people will disagree but my gut feeling is that this is likely.

From South China Tiger to Wild Cat Species


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