Of the six remaining tiger subspecies on earth (Amur/Siberian, Bengali, Indochinese, Malayan, South Chinese, and Sumatran), the South Chinese Tiger is the most endangered. In fact, it has not been seen in the wild for over two decades.
Also known as the Amoy, South China, or simply, the Chinese Tiger, it was once found across the temperate forests of Central and Eastern China, including Sichuan, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, and Jiangxi. Today, most of these big cats are found in Chinese zoos while those that may still roam the Chinese forest wilderness would be found in the montane sub-tropical evergreen forest of southeast China, close to provincial borders.
Why are they endangered?
Once, some 4,000 South Chinese tigers roamed across China until the rise of the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s. During the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s, Communist leader Mao Zedong needed more land for new farms, factories, and villages. To clear the way, Mao declared that tigers were an "enemy of the people."
The slaughter that followed almost wiped out the South China (or Chinese) Tiger and put many tiger parts on the black market. In Chinese medicine, every part of the tiger has a medicinal value from the nose which treats epilepsy to the tail, which is believed to treat skin disease. As a side effect, with tiger bone and parts plentiful, the demand for tiger medicines shot up.
It was not until 1979 when hunting the tigers was finally banned and started to list the animal as first-class protected species. However, about 250-300 remained. Deforestation of its habitat due to China's population growth and illegal poaching has wiped out the last of these tigers until the 1990s when 30 to 80 were left. As of today, this subspecies has not been seen in the wild for over two decades, though scientists believe there may be less than 20 to 30 remaining in the Chinese forest wilderness. There are about 120 South China Tigers left worldwide, most of these numbers are in captivity.
What is being done to save the animal?
It was only in recent years has the Chinese taken steps to save their few remaining tigers. In fact, not only can these tigers be found in Chinese zoos and nature reserves, a few of these big cats were brought to a private reserve in South Africa, in the Laohu Valley Reserve, where there are plans to not only breed them, but to also "rewild" them so they can one day be released back into their natural habitat. This organization is known as "Save China's Tigers."
Meanwhile, in China, the government has already listed "saving the Chinese tigers" as a top priority in conservation. Conservationists are starting to set wildlands in the tiger's historic range in China for reserves so they can restore the wild population that was once lost to Mao's "antipest" campaign. We can help bring back the South Chinese Tiger and save them from extinction by boycotting medicines made from their body parts as well as buying wood and.or paper products certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).
- The stripes of the South Chinese Tiger are slightly smaller and spaced broadly, giving it a more distinct appearance of an iconic tiger.
- It is believed that the Chinese Tiger is not only the most endangered, but it is also the most ancient of the nine subspecies that existed in history.
- Tigers have played a major role in Chinese art and culture for centuries including being one of the 12 animals of the Chinese New Year.
- The average tiger has more than 100 stripes. No two tigers have the same stripe pattern.
- They have super soft pads on their feet, so they can move soundlessly when stalking prey.
- Tigers see six times better in the night than humans do.
- Tiger roars are powerful and can travel long distances; they can be heard as far as two miles away!
This is Li Quan, the founder of the non-profit organization, Save China's Tigers, which aims to save the most endangered tiger in the world by releasing them into their natural habitat while breeding them and rewilding them to regain their predator instincts.