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Saturday, March 10, 2001, updated at 12:00(GMT+8)

China Blazes Trails in Saving Endangered Tigers

Through decades of efforts, Chinese zoologists have mastered effective techniques for artificially breeding South China tigers, bringing new hope to the protection and survival of the endangered species.

Fewer than 80 worldwide, the tiger's extinction was seen as " inevitable" by many scientists years ago, because of breeding taboos and the difficulties involved. Moreover, the extremely limited number made the animal species face the fate of dinosaur, they warned.

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.

To save the fierce yet beautiful cats, China began to breed the tigers through artificial breeding in 1963, and the Qianling Zoo in Guiyang, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, was the first to achieve success in the field.

The Suzhou Zoo, in east China's Jiangsu Province, is taking a leading position in breeding tigers both at home and abroad. It has bred 70 tigers since 1988 and 37 survived, the highest survival rate in the world.

Four decades ago, people didn't care much about artificial breeding of the mammal, because there were over 4,000 wild tigers roaming amidst the forests in south China.

Later, Chinese experts had to find a way of breeding the tiger, as its number saw a rapid decline due to narrower and deteriorating habitats.

Huang Gongqing, an experienced expert at the Suzhou Zoo, and his assistants pioneered in breeding and taking care of South China tigers.

For a higher survival rate, the experts did research in a variety of subjects of zoology, physiology, toxicology, histophysiology, embryology, tocology, nutriology, immunology, ecology and environmental hygiene.

Scientific breeding diet suitable to various location is worked out by the experts, according to temperature changes, tigers' appetite and different fertility stages of female tigers.

"The tigers can grow fast and strong only when the feeder knows when and how much the tigers need to eat beef, rabbits, chicken, eggs, meat gruel, vitamins and microelements," Huang said.

It is a vital factor to prevent and avoid harm to the tigers by ecological cause in artificial feeding, according to the experts. They attached great importance to environmental hygiene, assuring a safe, comfortable and sanitary residence in seasons.

The tigers' rooms were all air-conditioned to keep indoor temperature at 20 degrees Celsius at which tigers feel most comfortable. Regular prevention work was staged to extirpate parasites inside and outside the rooms.

Wired video monitoring system were installed to keep watch on the tigers in case of a contingency and human-care service was at work day and night.

The experts accumulated rich experience in breeding a breeder tiger from the beginning when it is only a zygote. Mother tigers, who are pregnant or in their breast-feeding period are adequately fed with nutritious food to guarantee embryo's good development or cub tigers having a sufficient amount of milk.

If a mother tiger suffers insufficient lactation, artificial nursing will be taken to make sure cub tigers' growth and the mother tiger's health.

The tigers' daily information were observed and recorded for further research, including body temperature, mood, respiration, appetite, excrement, urine, and walking pace. Special attention was paid to female tigers during mating or pregnancy periods.

For first-hand information, the experts assumed 24-hour monitoring over mother tigers in process of delivery and 15 days after giving birth.

The Suzhou Zoo's successful experience helped other tiger breeders in China.

Out of the 57 live tigers in the country's zoos, 30 were born in the Suzhou zoo and the rest were bred by zoos across China. The Shanghai zoo alone has bred 18 tigers since the late 1980s.

To protect South China tigers, the Ministry of Construction has announced rules governing feeding, management, propagation and breeding of the endangered species.

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Through decades of efforts, Chinese zoologists have mastered effective techniques for artificially breeding South China tigers, bringing new hope to the protection and survival of the endangered species.

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