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Year of the Tiger | The Endangered South China Tiger

Year of the Tiger | The Endangered South China Tiger

Tuesday 1st February marked the Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, it is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar and millions of people all around the world will be celebrating. In Chinese tradition, each year is named after one of 12 animals, which feature in the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. This year is the Year of the Tiger. Tigers originate from China and so have a very important role in the Chinese zodiac and wider society. In Chinese culture, the tiger is a valued animal. Tigers represent power and a daring attitude, they are considered a subject of awe and fear. The tiger is considered the king of all beasts, with the ability to ward off evil spirits and protect a household. However, did you know that many species of tiger are critically endangered?

 

The South China tiger, also known as the 'Chinese' or 'Amoy' tiger, is considered critically endangered by the IUCN. The South China tiger originated in China around 2 million years ago. They are the second smallest tiger subspecies (after the Sumatran tiger), with adult males measuring around 240cm tall. They have short, dense, yellow-ish fur with broader, more widely-spaced stripes. In the early 1950's, the South China tiger population was reported to be more than 4,000 individuals in the wild before it tragically became the target of large-scale government 'anti-pest' campaigns. 

 

Today, there are very few South China tigers in the wild. In fact, some experts argue that there are none at all. The last confirmed sighting was over 3 decades ago, so it does appear unlikely that a wild population still exists. There are currently about 100 in captivity - most are in zoos in China and breeding centres, whilst the rest are in the care of Save China's Tigers at Laohu Valley Reserve. The effects of large-scale, uncontrolled hunting impacted the tigers greatly, but this was not the only issue that led to their decline. Extensive deforestation and reduction in available prey led to the fragmentation of tiger populations, quickly diminishing their numbers. In 1977, tigers were classified as protected, which helped to slow their decline but unfortunately things were too late for the South China tiger. 

 

But all hope is not lost. There are many wonderful organisations working hard to help bring the South China tiger back to the wild. Save China's Tigers are a charity working across both the UK and Hong Kong to help educate the public on the South China tigers plight. They have a successful breeding program and an ambitious rewilding program to help reintroduce captive tigers into the wild. They have a successful reserve based in South Africa and are currently working to set up a Pilot Reserve in China, based on the model and principles of successful African reserves. With dedication and hard work, there is a chance we could see these beautiful tigers in the wild once more. 

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