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Wednesday, March 07, 2001, updated at 09:51(GMT+8)

Salvation Efforts Help Endangered Tiger Survive Extinction

Twin South China tiger cubs, a male and a female born last month in east China, cast light on salvation efforts to save the highly endangered animal from dying out, which is against western wildlife experts prediction years ago.

The South China Tiger, endemic only to China, is listed as one of the 10 most endangered animals on the earth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Tigers have always been considered a single species with five subspecies + the South China tiger, the Siberian tiger, the Bengal tiger, the Indochinese tiger and the Sumatran tiger. The Bali tiger, the Caspian tiger and the Javan tiger have all become extinct.

According to a "Red List" compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in 1996, fewer than 6,000 wild tigers exist in Asia and eastern Russia, compared with 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.

All existing subspecies of tigers are at risk, most notably the South China tiger, with fewer than 80, the Siberian tiger down to below 200, and the Bengal tiger, fewer than 4,000.

So far, only 57 South China tigers are alive in captivity in the world, and none of the animals have been captured alive over the past 40 years. Experts believe that fewer than 20 wild tigers of the subspecies live in the forests in south China.

The birth of cub tigers since 1996 at zoos in Shanghai and other major cities has enhanced up people's hope to reinvigorate the animal's community.

Chinese experts bred 28 South China tigers over the past five years, a record high in history. China's success in tiger breeding added the species' total number in the world by a net growth of 10, or by about one-fourth, and therefore increased the possibility of expanding the tiger's breed pool.

As a matter of fact, the gene pool for the South China tiger is extremely small.

"We have been pretty familiar with the techniques of breeding, feeding and taking care of the tigers, which can probably become the third rare animal species that is saved out of extinction by China, following the giant panda and elk," said Huang Gongqing, senior veterinarian of the Suzhou Zoo in east China's Jiangsu Province.

To date the Suzhou Zoo has bred 70 South China tigers and 35 survived, keeping a 50 percent survival rate, which is top among its counterparts in the world.

Encouraged by the Suzhou Zoo, the zoos in Shanghai, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Fuzhou and Nanchang have stepped up the artificial propagation work. The Shanghai Zoo has set up a gene pool for tigers to help prevent inbreeding. The zoo alone has bred 18 tigers since the late 1980s.

The Qianling zoo in Guiyang, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, was the first in China to successfully breed South China tigers by artificial propagation in 1963.

But the country did not launch the nationwide protection campaign featuring artificial propagation to save the endangered cat until 1983, when the tiger was categorized at the risk of depopulation and put under state protection.

The China Zoo Association held in 1995 a national meeting on the tiger's protection to foster the South China Tiger Protection Program.

The Ministry of Construction issued in 1996 the Regulations on the South China Tiger's Feeding, Management, Propagation and Breeding. The next year the South China Tiger Protection Fund was founded in Suzhou.

Massive activities were staged to stress protection of the tiger in 1998, the year coinciding with the Chinese Year of the Tiger, including issuing the tiger's documentary, money donations, issuing a lottery to raise funds for the salvation work.

Covering four hectares, the Suzhou Shihu South China Tiger- Breeding Base, the largest of its kind in the country, was founded in 1999. The base currently has 13 South China tigers, one of the largest breeding community of the animal in the world.

The base has 30 tiger rooms and a 1,000-square-meter playground for the animals. Other facilities include medical treatment rooms, monitor and control facilities.

Five tigers at the base have gone to fertile age and three have no close relative in genes, indicating an absence of inbreeding, which is genetically welcome.

"A world without the tiger is far from exciting," Huang, also chief veterinarian of the base, said. "Our protection efforts receive increasing supports from the people and the government. We will work hard to keep the lovely tiger man's friend forever!" he added.

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Twin South China tiger cubs, a male and a female born last month in east China, cast light on salvation efforts to save the highly endangered animal from dying out, which is against western wildlife experts prediction years ago.

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