South China tiger

South China tiger
South China tiger
Chinese: 华南虎
Chinese: 華南虎
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. tigris
Subspecies: P. t. amoyensis
Trinomial name
Panthera tigris amoyensis
(Hilzheimer, 1905)
South China tiger range

The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is a tiger subspecies that originated in southern China and northern Indochina and has been classified as critically endangered by IUCN since 1996 as it is possibly extinct in the wild.[1]

It is also known as South Chinese tiger and as the Chinese, Amoy, or Xiamen tiger. The South China tiger is one of the smaller and it is the most critically endangered of any of the living tiger subspecies. Experts maintain that there are fewer than 20 of these tigers left in the wild, and warn that it might become extinct within the next decade. One 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. In October 2007, the forestry department of Zhenping county, Shaanxi published photographs of P. t. amoyensis in its native habitat, but these were later debunked after an investigation.[2] The South China tiger is considered to be the “stem” tiger, the subspecies from which all other tigers descended.[3] The South China tiger has been recently listed as one of the world's 10 most endangered animals.[4]


Physical characteristics

The South China tiger is one of the smallest tiger subspecies. Male tigers measure about 2.6 m (8 ft) from head to tail and weigh about 150 kg (330 lb). Female tigers are smaller, measuring about 2.3 m (712 ft) long. They weigh approximately 110 kg (240 lbs). The short, broad stripes of the South China tiger are spaced far apart compared to those of Bengal and Siberian tigers.[5]


The South China tiger, like all other subspecies of tigers, are pure carnivores. The South China tiger prefers prey ranging between 30 and 400 lbs and have been known to eat livestock like cows and goats in the past when their population was much higher. They are expert hunters and will stalk and follow their prey for hours. South China tigers have an average speed of around 35 mph, faster than most of its prey species, but they do not have enough stamina to maintain their top speed for long. These big cats kill their prey with a bite to the back of its neck (usually for medium-sized prey) or use the suffocation hold on the prey's throat. South China tigers can feed on almost anything, from small insects to Gaurs. Many humans died from South China tiger attacks in the past and they have been known as man-eaters when their population was much higher.[6]

A South China tiger of the Save China's Tigers project with his blesbuck kill.


The South China tiger, Panthera tigris amoyensis, was formerly abundant in South China's temperate upland forests. Today its wide range has been reduced to three isolated areas in south-central China, where small and scattered populations are said to persist along the mountainous borders between provinces. As with the Black-footed Ferret, one of the biggest contributing factors to the South China tigers' dwindling population is the destruction of its prey base. Two other major factors that have contributed to the tiger’s decline are poaching and population fragmentation. South China tigers, like other tiger subspecies, live in dense jungles and love spending time in water.

Persecution and extinction

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the South China tiger was distributed in southern China and Hong Kong. The last known contact in Hong Kong was reported in 1947. In 1959, Mao Zedong, in the time of the Great Leap Forward, declared the tiger and other predators such as leopards and wolves to be pests and “enemies of the people”; as a result, several “anti-pest” campaigns started.[7] The tigers then were considered pests because they attacked farmers and villagers.[8] Becoming widely persecuted, their wild population of the South China tiger fell from more than 4,000 to less than 200 by 1982.[9] The Chinese government then reversed the classification of the tiger, banning hunting altogether in 1977, but this seems to have been too late. The South China tiger has not been seen in the wild for no less than 50 years.[10] Today the estimated population of the South Chinese subspecies is 20–30 individuals found only in the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang. Tigers still found in southeast China belong to the Indochinese tiger subspecies.


Since 1990, China’s State Forestry Administration has been leading the effort to save the South China tiger through the establishment of special Nature reserves for the 10–30 Chinese tigers thought to be left in the wild. A 1987 field survey by Chinese scientists reported a few tigers remaining in the Guangdong mountains bordering Hunan and Jiangxi, and another survey in 1990 noted evidence of about a dozen tigers in 11 reserves in the remote mountains of Guangdong, Hunan, and Fujian Provinces of South China; no tigers were seen. The only evidence came from anecdotal stories of former hunters.[5] China's few captive tigers are now part of a centrally registered studbook in an attempt to save this tiger from becoming the fourth tiger subspecies to become extinct in modern times. Before a studbook was established it was thought that this captive population was too small and lacking in genetic diversity for any repopulation 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 fueling hope of the possible reestablishment of the South China tiger in the wild.



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.[11] Since then, the term "rewilding" has been widely used by wildlife organisations worldwide.

Rewilding Project in South Africa

A male South China tiger of the Save China's Tigers project scent-marking its territory

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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[12] This project is also very successful in the breeding of these rewilded South China tigers and 5 cubs have been born in the project, these cubs of the 2nd generation would be able to learn their survival skills from their successfully rewilded mothers directly.[14]

It was hoped that in 2010, the Chinese year of the tiger, the first batch of rewilded South China tigers could be sent back to China from South Africa, and be released into the wild.[15]

Reaction to the project

Mainstream conservationists are not impressed. The WWF says that the money is being spent in the wrong place and that the Siberian tiger has a better chance of survival.[16]

Recently, renowned scientists have confirmed the role of Rewilding captive populations to save the South China tiger. A rewilding workshop conducted in the October of 2010, in Laohu Valley Reserve, South Africa, to access the progress of the rewilding and reintroduction program of Save China's Tigers. The experts present includes Dr. Peter Crawshaw of Centro Nacional de Pesquisa e Conservacão de Mamiferos Carnivoros, Cenap/ICMBIO, Dr. Gary Koehler, Dr. Laurie Marker of 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 back into the wild.[17]

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.[18]

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. Due to the remarkable progress of Save China’s Tigers Rewilding project subsequently in South Africa, the Chinese authorities are 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 from 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 existing wild South China tigers

On October 5, 2007, a supposed South China tiger attacked a cow and on September 13, a body of an Asiatic Black Bear possibly killed and eaten by a South China tiger was found, both in Zhen ping County.[19]

On October 11, 2007, Zhenglong Zhou, a 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.[20][21]

However, the photographs aroused suspicion, with many expressing doubts about the authenticity of the digital picture.[22] 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.[23][24] In a statement issued on November 23, 2007, the Shaanxi Province Forestry Bureau said that they still "firmly believed" Wild South China tigers to exist in the province.[25] Yet on February 4, 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.[26]

On June 29, 2008, the authorities had announced to the press that all pictures published were proven to be forged, and the related officers had been punished, or even removed from their posts. The photographer himself, Zhenglong Zhou, has been arrested for suspicion of fraud.[27] 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.[28] Liyuan Liu, an associate professor in the College of Life Science, Beijing Normal University, said that he would never believe the photographs were fake even if he would be killed.[28] He also illustrated that Zhenglong Zhou could not take the photos of the footprints using the props retained by the Shaanxi Police.[29] The source of the poster is also suspicious. The manufacturer said that the poster was produced in no earlier than July, 2002 [30] while the first person who claimed to find the poster told the medium that it was bought before the Spring Festival in 2001.[31] Moreover, there are many evidences that the tiger in Zhou's photos was moving.[32] In other words, it is difficult to make tons of photos from a single static poster.

On November, 2010, Liyuan Liu have published a paper: "The study on the authenticity of the wild South China tiger on an hunter’s photos" at the International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation. Upon analysis of all the photos, he 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. This is the first time that the scientist provide strong evidences to prove that the wild South China tiger have not been extinct.[33]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Panthera tigris ssp. amoyensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2008. 
  2. ^ Provincial authorities: China tiger photos fabricated. : (2008-06-29). Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  3. ^ South China Tiger – Stem Tiger – Panthera tigris amoyensis. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  4. ^ South China Tiger Believed Still Exists in Wild. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  5. ^ a b Save The Tiger Fund | South China Tiger
  6. ^ Amoy Tiger (South China Tiger). (1914-04-22). Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  7. ^ "What immortal hand or eye?". The Economist. 2007-02-22. 
  8. ^ Rare Chinese tiger dies in SA reserve. 23 August 2005
  9. ^ South China Tigers – Panthera tigris amoyensis – Stem tiger. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  10. ^ South China Tiger: Tigers In Crisis Endangered Species Website. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  11. ^ Rare South China cubs head for South Africa, September 1st 2003 | Save China's Tigers. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  12. ^ a b FAQs | Save China's Tigers. (2004-07-25). Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  13. ^ "FAQs | Save China's Tigers". 2004-07-25. Retrieved 2009-03-07. 
  14. ^ The Baby Tiger That's Beating Extinction | Youtube Channel-SkyNews. (2007-12-04). Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  15. ^ Clock ticks for South China tigers in symbolic year. Reuters News. February 12, 2010. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  16. ^ Tiger finance, a banker's effort to fund survival. February 16, 2011. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  17. ^ Scientists Confirm the Role of Rewilding Captive Populations to Save the South China Tiger. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  18. ^ Tiger Cubs Saved By Catwoman. (2010-10-05). Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  19. ^ The Wild South China Tiger: The Photographers Account | Save China's Tigers. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  20. ^ World | Asia-Pacific | Rare China tiger seen in the wild. BBC News (2007-10-12). Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  21. ^ 绝迹24年华南虎重现陕西 村民冒险拍下照片. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  22. ^ EastSouthWestNorth: The South China Tiger Photographs. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  23. ^ Chinese Media Report Tiger Poster Identified as Model for Zhou's Tiger Photo | Save China's Tigers. (2007-11-16). Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  24. ^ "Poster heats up China "paper" tiger debate". Reuters. 2007-11-19. 
  25. ^ Paw imitations: Those tiger snaps prove fake – Shanghai Daily | 上海日报 – English Window to China News. Shanghai Daily. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  26. ^ Wu, Zhong (April 3, 2008). "'Paper tiger' tales shred credibility". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  27. ^ "Shaanxi gov't: South China Tiger photos are fake". Xinhuanet. Retrieved 2008-06-29. 
  28. ^ a b "Liyuan Liu: I would never believe the tiger photos are fake even if Zhou admits the forgery". the Beijing News. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  29. ^ "Three questions on the forgery evidences and field investigation". Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  30. ^ "The Dongfang Daily exclusively interviewed the manufacturer of the "paper tiger"". the Dongfang Daily. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  31. ^ "The tiger poster appeared first in a community in Panzhihua City". the Chengdu Biz News. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  32. ^ "The analysis report of the South China Tiger photos (full version) | 华南虎照片之科学分析报告(完备版)". | 搜狐网. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  33. ^ Li-Yuan Liu (2010). "The study on the authenticity of the wild South China tiger on an hunter’s photos". International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation 2 (11): 338–349. 

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