Tuesday, 10 July 2012
South China Tiger Rewilding Guidelines - First Step to the Reintroduction of Captive Bred Tigers to the Wild
At the International Wildlife Management Congress (IWMC 2012), the South China Tiger Rewilding Guidelines was officially released. Since 2003, I have undertaken an unprecedented project to rewild zoo-born South China Tigers in South Africa to prepare them for their eventual return to their natural habitat in China in conjunction with China's Wildlife R&D Centre of the Forestry Academy. This pioneering project was ground-breaking in many areas: applying an unconventional approach and utilizing the expertise of a different country in a foreign location to fast-track the recovery of the most ancient, yet most endangered tiger in the world.
Below is an abstract of the Tiger Rewilding Guidelines that I have applied and a full version in both English and Chinese can be obtained here: http://www.savechinastigers.cn/file/2013/RewildingGuidelines.pdf
Many wildlife management projects have been conducted throughout the world that may involve: rehabilitation, re-introduction or translocation. Few of these activities have successfully been conducted using captive bred predators. Rewilding describes the processes in which carnivores that have been in zoo conditions for generations and have no survival skills for the wild, re-learn the hunting and skills in a natural environment to prepare them to be reintroduced to the wild.
The South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is recognised by the IUCN as the most endangered of the remaining six extant subspecies of tigers. There are believed to be fewer than 30, if any at all, left in the wild. The only option to revive this tiger in the wild is through reintroduction of captive-bred individuals. OUr project aims to utilise rewilded captive bred tigers and their offspring as catalysts to restore and secure habitat for their release in China. In the wild, offspring of tigers are known to spend up to 28 months with their mothers when they acquire and develop hunting and survival skills. Captive-bred tigers lack these essential hunting skills and need to be rewilded before they can be reintroduced.
Tiger rewilding initially started in China in the 1990’s. South Africa was used to fast track the rewilding project. Five tigers were transferred from zoos in China to South Africa since 2003.
The tigers have been confined to one area of the reserve, subdivided into different-sized camps (0.5 to 100ha), depending on objectives for individual tigers. The number of camps increased over the years as the number of tigers increased, and the sizes of the hunting camps were modified as tigers became more experienced and skilled, and to accommodate the tigers’ development and mimic their movement according to their age. The tiger camps are secured with electrified fences.
There are three categories of camp sizes, according to the age of the tigers and their ability to hunt: quarantine/smaller camps, intermediate camps, advanced rewilding camps. All camps are equipped with natural or supplemental water supplies.
The Rewilding methodology was initially developed for us by Gus Van Dyk, former Carnivore Manager at Pilanesberg National Park of South Africa, and been fine-tuned throughout our rewilding programme, which has followed “Adaptive Management” procedures. The methods have evolved as the project progresses, to suit the changing needs and situations.
Zoo-born tigers that originated from China, were introduced to ungulate prey where rewilding involved “self-taught” or "trial and error" learning. Second generation tigers born in South Africa, were rewilded by: 1) learning survival skills from their mothers-“Natural Learning (NL)”, and 2) a combination of mother-teaching and NL without their mother’s accompaniment.
Components such as “Pavlov” training, prey species and their sizes, animal and human safety procedures, human habituation, veterinarian provisions, data collection/monitoring, treatment, and ethics are discussed in the rewilding guidelines.
Details of fencing structure, camps characteristics, prey species for hunting training and feeding, as well as monitoring sheets are also included in the rewilding guidelines.
Monday, 9 July 2012
Only two and half months passed but Madonna’s three little daughters have grown that much more. They are still as adorable as before but have gained a lot more confidence by now. Even the shyest of all, Zeta, ventures to come out and investigate me, albeit keeping a long distance between us. Now I certainly don’t have to be worried that they would be too wild that we couldn’t help them in time of veterinary need, or that they would be too stressed from human presence causing potential death.
They are extremely inquisitive. Anything new or that moves will focus their attention. Vita, formerly named Xa, is the most daring, being always the first to approach the object, and trailed closely by Yoya. Zeta is still the shyest girl of all, preferring to keep a distance or hide inside the trees to observe. Like any shy creatures, she needs mom the most, who certainly gives her plenty more confidence. Mom Madonna seems to understand this, as each time Zeta is out of sight for too long, she goes in search of her, calling. And once united, Madonna would shower Zeta with chuffs, head rubs and sweet tender talk.
The little girls reached 7 months before we started giving them “ formal” hunting training. Of course they had been seen chasing the odd mongooses and birds from time to time and I am sure nature keeps them busy and entertained, out of the sight of us humans. In the wild, tiger moms would bring her little cubs game to play with in order to slowly build their hunting abilities: a small deer or antelope, a bird, and etc. Our tigresses do the same with their cubs. By the time they reached 7 months, their body sizes have increased enough that bigger prey would no longer be a huge scare or threat to the cubs, and that they would also be more explorative and daring to approach the game, slowly discovering that it is actually their food or prey.
Initially, the cubs were terrified of a big creature like that of an antelope and would flee promptly. But they are observant and learn fast. Once they see how mom goes about making a hunt for them, they would imitate. A few days ago, when faced with a fair good sized antelope, Vita and Yoya put on their good performance, alternatively charming it by chuffing at it, or attack it head on. Even the shy Zeta joined in for the fun. They cornered the antelope to the fence but the antelope, smart by its own account, faced the cubs head on. Tigers normally attack by stalking and ambushing from behind. So when the prey faced the tiger, the tiger would be at a loss as to what to do, before coming up with a way to effectively tackle the prey. I had seen that with Hope, JenB and Coco.
Vita sisters wouldn’t give up. She cautiously tried sneaking behind a bush to access the antelope’s flank. Yoya followed in her foot steps and tried from another side. But the antelope was a formidable opponent. I was worried the cubs would be too reckless and get injured in the process, so I was glad to see even Vita and Yoya still have their cautious side to them. In the end though it took mom Madonna to secure the meal for her family. Once Madonna made the kill, she left her eager daughter Vita, who was imitating her, to drag the prey into the shade of the trees. With her mouth on the carcass’s neck, she toddled left and right..
Vita and Yoya were again leading the hunt today, but Zeta was too timid to come forward. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on due to the distance and the bushes between us, but I could see the tree branches moving and the occasional orangy stripes flashing back & forth. The cubs were certainly trying their best to get close to their prey from every direction, but the antelope was no easy enemy either. Madonna who would normally finish the prey off to secure the meal certainly had a different plan today. After having taken a look of the situation, she decided to just leave her cubs to the job. Emboldened by mom’s presence in the vicinity however, Zeta joined the hunt.
Research had shown that cats learn the fastest from their mother, second fastest from other cats, third from humans and last by figuring out themselves. We have good case of them learning from each other. I am confident Zeta will also catch up soon.
The three daughters will be nine months old in three days. They are certainly off for a good start!
Li Quan from Laohu Valley Reserve
6th July 2012
Friday, 6 July 2012
There is clearly a love and hate relationship between tigers and porcupines. More than once I witnessed the tigers getting totally fascinated by these thorny little creatures, circling around them with both excitement and caution. Aren’t they just funny things?? Their quills stick out and they make such pleasant noises too. I don't know what the tigers really think but each time when I saw them in the vicinity of a porcupine, I shudder.
Porcupines are deadly creatures. Their quills are such effective armour and weapon killers that penetrate deep into an enemy's body, causing a painful slow death. We once found a dead springbok with a couple of dozen porcupine quills sticking inside her belly and we could not even pull the quills out.
There is one female porcupine living near my house and some nights, I could hear her eating the barks on the tree, where my cat Sisi loved to stay before she disappeared. I am told that this tree may die sooner or later, due to the good work of the porcupine that has persistently, steadfastly and methodically been gnawing at its bark. Fortunately she couldn't reach very high so the tree should be able to stand longer.
They are certainly cute creatures, or fascinating, as the tigers also found. The young ones are sweet little things. I once saw two of them with their mother crossing the dirty road in front of me. I was so tempted to go and picking them up, but of course that would be inviting trouble.
I had seen both Cathay and Hulooo at a porcupine at different times. They were all very cautious, never venture that close to get hurt. That “huahua” noise the quills make did seem to have a intimidating effect on the tigers so they always stayed at arm’s length.
However, two weeks ago, JenB was found with porcupine quills stuck in his neck and chest. What had happened between him and the porcupine was anyone’s guess. Most of the quills were gone by next day but two remained on him with the outside sections broken off. Joseph, our vet had to be called in to immobilize JenB and take the remaining parts of the quills out. This was the first time in nearly nine years that we had a porcupine related incidence.
But misfortunes never occur alone.
Yesterday I entered into the 40ha camp where Cathay and her daughter Huwaa and sons Alpha and Beta lodged. None of the tigers was in sight. Over the radio Vivienne informed me that she saw Huwaa chasing a porcupine in the riverine area. I didn’t like the sound of it but there was nothing I could do: I couldn’t see the tigers to distract them nor could I go catch the porcupine. After some time I started the engine of my truck to have a look and see. Not far from the river I saw a tiger licking herself. I couldn’t tell who that was so I looked through my binoculars. To my complete shock the big cat was covered in porcupine quills. Nothing scares me than seeing this!
I radioed our team to contact the vet and Vivienne joined me to have a closer look. It turned out to be Cathay. When she stood up I saw she not only had a number of quills on her chest, belly and leg, her face and legs were also covered with blood. Bloody Hell! Did she kill a porcupine? Why on earth would she do that? Taking such an enormousrisk attacking something that she was always cautious about?
We got her into the adjacent mini camp for monitoring to see how deep the quills got into her, and in case she needs to be sedated for us to remove the quills. Fortunately, none of the quills looked too deep inside her body so we decided to monitor her situation while waiting to hear back from the vet. By the end of the day, most of the 7 or 8 quills dropped off from her walking about. Cathay also didn’t seem disturbed by them and the two remaining quills didn’t look life threatening and may also drop off by themselves so we left her on her own for the night, with her children huddled on the other side of the fence.
Cathay had always been a cat with great motherly and protective instinct. She was also a fantastic but cautious hunter. To undertake such a reckless and dangerous act could only be due to her sense of responsibility as a mother. I could only deduce that Cathay must have intervened to kill the porcupine in order to protect her daughter Huwaa who was chasing it, for fear that her precious daughter might get injured.
But how on earth did she kill the porcupine? That beast is full of lethal thorns which are known to kill those who dare to get too close. Perhaps Cathay flipped the creature over so she could get to its fragile belly? Whatever she did she proved her amazing ability to hunt, and even greater intelligence than one could have ever imagined.
By end of day today, only one quill remained. Hopefully it will drop off by itself so we don’t have to undertake the always worrisome process of sedation in order to remove the quill.
Li Quan from Laohu Valley Reserve
3rd July 2012
Thursday, 28 June 2012
Below is a summary of the briefing:
The Role of Reintroduction: Ensuring the Continued Existence of Species in the Wild
The drivers of human-wildlife conflict often place enormous pressures on entire populations of flagship species. These threats can be so severe that, once dangers have been addressed, existing populations need to be supplemented with animals raised in captivity.
Both the Smithsonian National Zoo and Save China’s Tigers are pursuing innovative means of species preservation through reintroduction.
Dr. Monfort of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute outlined the ways in which zoos can leverage their resources to reintroduce species on the brink of extinction into the wild.
The Smithsonian believes this method of species conservation will be increasingly important for the future, as the number of endangered species has increased steadily over the past ten years.
Save China's Tigers is leading one of the most famous current "rewilding" programs - first introducing South China tigers in South Africa, which offers ideal conditions for the tigers to relearn to hunt, and eventually releasing them back into South China.
In 2008, the organization had observed their greatest milestone in a pair of tiger cubs born in South Africa in the wild, after four years of training the tigers' parents to adapt to the environment. 14 tigers are now under Save China's Tiger, 11 of them born in South Africa.
Monday, 21 May 2012
CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA
CITES Secretariat praises China for major nationwide wildlife law enforcement operations
New national CITES enforcement coordinating body shows positive results
During the Forest Police Operation, organized by the State Forestry Administration, more than 700 cases of illegal wildlife trade were uncovered; 7,155 illegal wildlife stalls and shops as well as 628 illegal online wildlife shops were shut down; 520 websites believed to offer for sale illegal wildlife were closely monitored; enforcement action was taken against 1,031 wildlife dealers involved in illegal activities; 13 wildlife-related criminal networks were dismantled and approximately 130,000 wild animals; 2,000 wildlife products and 147 wild animal skins were confiscated.
During the Customs Authorities Operation, organized by the General Administration of Customs, 13 suspects were arrested; 1,366.3 kg of ivory, 337,400 kg of red sandal wood; and approximately 30,000 kg of yew timber and 876 horns of saiga antelope were seized.
These two major operations were carried out under the auspices of NICECG, which was established in December 2011 in order to facilitate the collection and exchange of intelligence, enhance capacity building, and coordinate joint enforcement activities. NICECG comprises the State Forestry Administration, the Ministry of Public Security, the General Administration of Customs, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Administration of Industry and Commerce. The CITES Management Authority of China, hosted by the State Forestry Administration, is the coordinating body of NICECG.
The CITES Secretary-General, Mr John E Scanlon, presented the Certficate of Commendation to the Chair of NICECG and Vice Minister of the State Forestry Administration, Ms Yin Hong, at the opening ceremony of a meeting hosted by China on the Development of CITES E-Permitting Systems, which is being held in Guangzhou and attended by participants from 14 CITES member States. Mr Scanlon declared: “The sheer scale, extent of coordination, and level of success of these intelligence-driven operations exemplify the coordinated enforcement effort that is required at the national and sub-national levels to combat wildlife crime successfully. We commend the Chinese Government for this excellent initiative, which echoes the
coordinated enforcement approach that we are promoting through the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).”
At the acceptance of the Certificate of Commendation, Ms Yin Hong, stated: “The Government of China attaches great importance to the protection of the ecological system, and has always given high priority to the protection of biological diversity and wildlife law enforcement. China is committed to work with the international community to enhance the implementation and enforcement of CITES.”
Although China has been conducting nationwide wildlife enforcement actions for many years, the new operations coordinated by NICECG, have clearly given new impetus to CITES implementation. NICECG is also serving as a model at the provincial level, with five CITES enforcement inter-agency groups being set up.
Dr Meng Xianlin, Executive Director-General of the CITES Management Authority of China, said: “We see the Certificate of Commendation from the CITES Secretary-General as a very positive recognition of the law enforcement efforts made by China in the implementation of CITES, one for which we are extremely grateful. This is an invaluable encouragement to all the wildlife law enforcement officers across China. NICECG will spare no efforts to bring its power into full play in order to gather concerted efforts of all relevant authorities in combating illegal activities in wildlife and to curb illegal wildlife trade effectively. ”
CITES implementation has also recently been brought to the fore at the highest political level. In the joint statement issued after the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue held from 3 to 4 May in Beijing, article 47 states that: “We decide to jointly support the wildlife law enforcement efforts and to combat the smuggling of endangered and protected species. China and the United States will attend the Special Investigation Group Meeting held from 20 to 21 June 2012 in Nanning, China, led by ASEAN-WEN. At the meeting, wildlife investigators and forensic experts will identify and recommend improved enforcement and inspection efforts.”
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
April 5, 2012 On the Trail of Prey
Cathay was sighted on the prowl in the middle section of the Tigers Roars camp this morning. Guess it was time to hunt as the last kills of three antelopes were a few days ago. The cubs were nowhere to be seen. I drove to the riverine area and waited. After some time roars came closer and closer and it turned out to be Cathay calling her cubs. I followed her movement up the hill where she lied down, where all her three children were frolcking in that same area, all the time within my eye view but well camouflaged in the golden grass! But how did Cathay know they were there?!
Soon she got up and walked off and one by one her cubs followed, chasing and jumping on top of one another along the way. Huwaa and Beta disappeared into the trees inside the riverine area following mom’s trail but Alpha had another plan and went in a different direction. Well, I thought all of them found their places to rest for the day as it was 8.30am, even though it was not a very hot day.
I was calling it a morning but decided to drive the long way out. I was however taken by surprise when I saw Cathay with Huwaa and Beta in the middle section of the camp along the fence. It dawned on me that Cathay had gone back to gather her kids on a hunt! Slowly Mom and cubs moved forward in the direction of the blesbuck. It was evident the children were at the early stages of their hunting training, as Huwaa made an attempt at the antelope too soon, scaring them away. In between the wait, the cubs either played with one another, or molested their mom to kill time. Only seven blesbuck remained and it wouldn’t be so easy to hunt, especially with the cubs being more a hindrance than help. Patience is a learned skill even for the most lethal of all hunters -the big cats.
At one stage, the blesbuck ended up behind the three tigers, though a long distance away. Cathay turned around and started walking back with patience and resilience. Just when I was thinking what a great pity that Alpha chose to be lazy, when I suddenly saw him trailing behind the blesbuck in the opposite side of the camp! I apologized to him for having misjudged him. The Blesbuck is however a formidable enemy and a tiger could never catch them by outrunning them. Patience, judgement and strategy are however in a good hunter’s favour and Cathay has plenty of that, plus years of experience.
Eventually the blesbuck ran across the camp into the riverine area with dense vegetation and trees. The tigers started moving back. I guess Cathay’s strategy is to push the prey into the tree-lined riverine area where it would be easier to hunt. I however had to leave to attend a conference call.
April 6 2012 Huwaa’s First Witnessed Blesbuck Hunt
Early this morning, Cathay was tracking the blesbuck again, sniffing the grass, & teaching her cubs by example. The cubs followed suit. Huwaa was marching forward much ahead of her family, moving quickly among the grass but was soon joined by the rest of the family. The tigers zig-zagged, playing along the way, heading with great intent towards the blesbok in the far distance. Cathay, to show her cubs that patience pays, would stop and lie down from time to time and watch, while Alpha and Beta did not yet grasp the meaning of that, and constantly pestering Cathay. Huwaa was charging forward leaving everyone behind. The blesbuck got more and more skittish and eventually they ran across the camp to the opposite side of the camp towards the riverine area. Cathay turned around to follow and disappeared into the big donga.
Suddenly we glimpsed a blesbuck that has fallen behind the herd, likely having tripped on a stone. Before we knew what happened, Huwaa appeared out of nowhere like a flash of light and landed on top of the unlucky beast! What a spectacular hunt! I had underestimated Huwaa, the sweet cat full of nervous energy. I quickly drove up to her kill site, finding her mouth tightly wrapped around the blesbuck neck like a real hunter, not letting go. Beta had also arrived but was giving negative help by dragging and biting the leg of the blesbuck. The blesbuck was still struggling but Huwaa held on. In about 5 minutes, the prey finally stopped moving and Huwaa kept holding on for a little more, making sure the prey was dead.
How proud I am of her! This is our first witnessed hunt of blesbok by Huwaa and she has already proven her skills. Thinking back how sickly she was while being hand-reared at zoo, and that the warnings by the zoo vet that she might not live long due to her heart echo and that we ought to treat her with ultimate care, I feel, yet once again, that we have proven a natural environment for the tigers does wonders. A wild creature belongs to the beautiful nature, no matter where it is. They certainly don’t belong to cages.
Mom Cathay, despite she must have been hungry, didn’t interfere through the entire process. She let Huwaa drag the carcass towards the shade of a bush, but Huwaa’s effort was stunted by her brothers who tried to drag it to another part of the world. Cathay intervened, picking up the carcass and dragging it next to a bush, and leaving it there for her cubs while herself went a distance away to watch. What a wonderful mother she is! Huwaa, like all tigers that have just made kills, needed a rest and let her brothers tackling the hard skin of the carcass in turn. They eventually succeeded tearing a hole through the butt allowing them to feed. Mom came over another time to drag the carcass closer to the next & bigger bush. I can see her intention-as the sun was shining harder and the cloud dissipated, she wanted to get her family and their food to better shade. All this time, she didn’t put in a single bite into the carcass. After a while, she got up, and started off probably for another hunt.
Well we certainly had a “Good Friday” ourselves!
If yesterday was a good Friday, today was certainly a better Saturday for both tigers and humans at Laohu Valley. To start with, we were able to get a glimpse of Madonna’s beautiful little daughters by the stony riverbed, who are still indistinguishable from one another. While we were waiting for Madonna’s cubs to appear from the trees, Madonna came along the river line, calling her cubs. After a few minutes, her three daughters indeed emerged out of the dense vegetation, happily running towards mom. However, instead of resting where we could see them, Madonna leaped into the thicket with her cubs following closely behind.
I was soon able to find out why. Madonna’s family was in fact heading towards the 40 ha camp where Cathay’s family reside. Just when Madonna’s cubs had appeared from the trees to answer her calls, our Dutch student Kimberly’s voice had also came through on the radio-Cathay had just made a kill!
A while later, Sanet and I drove up the hill to observe Cathay’s family and saw Cathay leisurely walking about. While we were just wondering where she hid her catch Sanet spotted another tiger dragging a carcass into the trees on the other side of the little river. We reckon this could not possibly be the blesbuck Cathay had just killed as it would be silly of Cathay to drag her kill from up the hill all the way across the river to the other side of the bank & away from the trees. This must be another kill, particular since the antelope seemed pretty agitated and running around in the distance. On closer inspection through the binoculars, it turned out the dragger was Huwaa. So this little girl must have made yet another kill!!
We wondered if any other blesbuck had lost its life and started counting what was left. But with the blesbuck running it was hard. Repeated attempt to count yielded however the same number of 16, while an hour ago Sanet counted 21. Could this be true that Cathay’s family caught five antelope in a matter of one hour? It is hard to believe but this happened before when Hulooo brothers went on a rampage, catching 9 blesbok in a row. I drove around the camp to get a better count and in the end had to resign to the fact, that a total worth of US$1000 of antelope were taken by Cathay’s family this morning. I am sure Huwaa contributed a couple and I also hope the boys, Alpha and Beta, learned a trick or two.
So Madonna must have heard the commotions in the distance and gathered her cubs to the battle ground to share some excitement.
April 8, 2012
Another 3 blesbuck missing by the end of the day….
Friday, 6 April 2012
Sisi, in the morning of Feb 6, before I let you out of the house into the vastness of Laohu Valley Reserve while I was leaving , I picked you up and said to your pretty little face: “Don’t you dare to ever leave me. Please wait for me to come back again in a couple of months”.
So where have you gone now?? It’s over four weeks since you disappeared without a trace. You have never ever left me since you and I become friends in 2006. Each time I was back at Laohu Valley, I was looking forward to finding you inside my bedroom already waiting and without fail. And I was each time greeted by your excited sweet little voice. You showered me with affection with your pretty little head rubbing my cheeks. You showered me with love by watching me quietly in the middle of the night. You kept me such good company during the day if there were no other people around. You waited for me patiently on the big tree if I had guests in the house, as if guarding me.
Many a solitary nights passed with you besides me purring contently. You kept that wild side of you, the genes you inherited from perhaps a blackfooted cat father, to yourself, but it betrays you none the less-the shyness that kept you away from other humans. But you were always there for me. You would emerge out of anywhere whenever I called out: “Sisi….Sisi…”, and you have always run to me excitedly, out of trees, bushes or from the top of my roof.
So where have you gone?? I worried about you each time I left. I investigated how to get you to London without putting you into quarantine but knew you wouldn’t be happy in an apartment in a big city with no trees to climb, no bush to hide, no mice to catch, and no shining stars to behold. Therefore I wanted to wait till both you and I are old, so none of us could travel any more.
So why have you gone? I was so proud of you, your wild genes and boasted often to friends and visitors about my friendship and bond with you-my “million dollar wild cat”. Even though the worry that I may one day return to Laohu Valley without finding you around always lurks around the corner, I never ever expected this to happen, and so soon too.
Did I put a curse on you when I spelled it out loud to your little face forbidding you to ever leave me? Perhaps I should not have said that to you? Perhaps you are just playing hide & seek with me? I cant think of any reason why you are gone: You are too quick to be taken by a jackal, too smart to have a fight with a caracal, too athletic to fall from a tree, too cautious to touch a porcupine. Or perhaps you are poisoned by a Cape cobra? Or perhaps you were poisoned by neighbouring farmers’ jackal control traps? However, you never wandered that far away…
Or perhaps you simply decided to have an adventure somewhere!
But wherever you are, you should know I am always waiting for you, to return to me one day.
Li Quan from Laohu Valley on April 5h 2012