Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Saturday, July 27, 2002

South China tigers learn to survive

It is drizzling in the four-hectare wildlife park and several south China tigers are roaming in the grass or lying under a protruding rock.


It is drizzling in the four-hectare wildlife park and several south China tigers are roaming in the grass or lying under a protruding rock.

Nothing remarkable in that, except that these tigers are being trained to live in the wild -- and getting used to the rain is part of the process.

There are fewer than 100 south China tigers living worldwide, and only 20 to 30 live in the wild. The rest reside at zoos and the species is listed as one of the world's ten most endangered animals.

But at Meihuashan South China Tiger Propagation and Wildlife Adaptation Research Center, in Shanghang County, Longyan city in east China's Fujian Province, a major program to raise their numbers was launched in 1998.

It is hoped the number of south China tigers in Meihuashan will increase from 8 to 100 by 2010.

The program, which was included by the State Forestry Administration in its development plan last August, requires an investment of over 100 million yuan (12.1 million US dollars), and spending in 2002 and 2003 will be 20.36 million yuan (2.45 millionUS dollars).

This will establish a natural habitat for south China tigers, with an area of 467 hectares, where the tigers will have to hunt and kill for themselves.

Fu Wenyuan, a research fellow and tiger keeper with the center,says three tigers came from Suzhou Zoo, in east China's Jiangsu Province, in September 1998 and another three from Guilin Tiger and Bear Mountain Farm, in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in June 2000.

"These tigers even feared chickens, goats or human beings as a result of captivity when they first came here, but through wilderness adaptation training, the six tigers have shown signs of improving their abilities to adapt to life in the wilderness, including hunting," says Fu.

The tigers from Suzhou escape to the cages on cold or rainy days, but the Guilin tigers prefer the outdoor environment and show stronger capabilities in capturing animals, Fu adds.

Two of the Guilin tigers have mated successfully, and the tigress gave birth to three cubs last July, of which two have survived.

"The tigress loved the cubs a lot and fed the two cubs fully onher own, instead of leaving it to artificial means, which suggestsa resumption of her natural abilities," says Fu.

The cubs, now one year old, weigh 80 kg each. Thanks to the special training in wilderness adaptation, they both prefer the wilderness rather than cages, and will take the initiative in attacking and capturing goats, consuming 20 to 30 so far.

"Though south China tigers have regained some of their natural abilities to hunt and kill for subsistence, the existing tigers cannot fully adapt to life in the wilderness, and adaptation will only be gradually realized through generations of younger tigers,"says Fu.

"To let south China tigers to return to nature requires a guarantee of the whole food chain for the beast of prey," says Fu,stressing the necessity of restoring the biosphere on which the tigers rely for subsistence.

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