Sunday, 9 August 2009

Battle Field at Tigers Roars

Aug 5th. 2009 Hunting Intensified
I feel so privileged to witness what I saw today. Hulooo and brothers were let into Tigers Roars in the evening of Aug 2nd and they made a kill overnight. Last night they took down two more blesbok, reducing their numbers to 26. When I went to see them around 4.30pm today, I was surprised to see one tiger was stalking an antelope in the distance, probably emboldened by their success from last few days. I quickly drove up to the lookout point from where I saw one of the younger brothers on the prowl.
Just when I was wondering if this would be Coco, Hulooo appeared in my binoculars, also with a meaningful walk.

The two brothers kept some distance about twenty meter between them, sniffing all the way, tracking the blesbok, heading South West. In the North-Eastern part of the camp, I saw the big group of blesbok standing, keenly aware of the tigers presence and monitoring their every move.
Hulooo's brother was closer to the antelopes and used the little bushes to hide himself during the approach.

Both tigers got closer and the blesbok lost their nerves and ran off towards the Western part of the camp, tailed by the two tiger brothers. Just when I thought what a pity that the other brother must be feeding on the kills, the third tiger ran out from behind the trees in the Western part towards the Blesbok, who were shocked to see an enemy coming out of nowhere. I had but to admit that that was an incredible cooperation among the brothers!

Way cut off by the third tiger, the blesbok split in different groups, with the third tiger chasing them to the West and the other two following them eastwards. There were a couple of close encounters and my heart was beating fast, anticipating a kill. But to my disappointment, no capture was made.

The brothers regrouped playfully and then split off again with a mission.
They sniffed along the grass pushing towards East again. The full moon was rising in the East, and slowly the sky turned a blue-reddish hue. Hulooo and bros continued their pursuit with such energy and stamina and there was another near encounter soon. For the next half an hour, I could see the blesbok had lost their cool, constantly running back and forth, with the brothers on their sides with seemingly endless energy. The hunt continued as the sun disappeared completely and judging from the constant moving shadows of the blesbok, I can guess the tigers were still hard at work. I bet they would make another kill tonight!

Aug 6, 2009 Battle between JenB Bros and a Blesbok
Having not seen any kills, never mind a dramatic hunt for years since Feb 2006, I was totally taken by surprise today. My friend Nicky F and her family of five came in helicopter today from Johannesburg, bringing my husband Stuart with them.

After a leisurely drive around our reserve and a lamb burger lunch, specialty of Villa TigerLi, my guests wanted to go and see the tigers early so we arrived at the Tiger Rewilding Center around 4pm in two vehicles.
Madonna put in an appearance for a few moments in the Catkins camp before disappearing into the river, tailed by King Henry who kept on playing with her tail.

We went into Tigers Roars Camp and just when I was wondering which direction to go to find Hulooo and brothers, we saw blesbok running wildly in the hilly area in the western section of the camp, and shadows of running tigers from time to time. We quickly drove towards the west, seeing now blesbok scattered all over this part of the camp, running off. We saw two tigers not far ahead going behind the trees. We followed them down the river area and saw in the distance against the sun the silhouette a blesbok and a tiger!

My goodness!!! The blesbok was charging the tiger! My heartbeat raced as I anticipated the third ever fantastic witnessed battle between tiger and blesbok during the history of our rewilding! What followed after was beyond words can describe, as I pulled out my little video camera quickly and recorded the fantastic tackle of the blesbok by JenB. JenB tried, almost half-heartedly, to bite the blesbok by the neck but the blesbok kept avoiding it. However, standing in the pool of water, the blesbok kept slipping giving the tiger advantage to tackle him. After a few rounds, with my females guests wooing and aahing, and me screaming and shrieking, JenB almost confused what to do seeing the slipping blesbok, finally grabbed the blesbok by its neck tentatively, and dragged it behind the tall grass! The moaning of the blesbok died eventually, followed by a few minutes of dead silence.

I could not contain my excitement at having witnessed this most fantastic hunt-only the third one I have ever witnessed during the entire nearly 6 years of rewilding. I am so proud of JenB, whom we thought had been the lame duck.

Another surprise laid in store, as we discovered another kill lying on the hilly rocks of the river bank a bit later, as Coco and JenB tried in turn to drag it down to a more accommodating area. Only after much effort, Coco managed, in a clever move, to dislodge the blesbok whose legs were caught in the rocks. Afterwards, all three young tigers came to where our vehicles were and lied down watching us as if seeking praise and approval. I was impressed that Hulooo did not come and jump on our vehicles as if having erased past memories from his childhood. Or maybe he is just getting less attached to humans as the wild side took over.
After much compliment and encouragement we showered on them, we left them before it turned completely dark. We got out of Tigers Roars just before they arrived at the gate, as if not wanting us to leave.

I must say the progress of these young tigers were remarkable. I counted 24 blesbok left this morning, so two kills were made overnight, and now we counted 21 blesbok remaining which means they made three kills during today, bring the total number of kills to 8 in the last 4 days since Sunday.

Aug 8, 2009
Heaven forbids! Hulooo brothers took another blesbok overnight, AND a springbok!! Springbok are famously fast runners and can spring 7 to 8 meters in one jump. They can also run through the fence when faced with danger. Two Springbok came into Tigers Roars a few months ago and have managed to survive through the onslaught for a few months. But clearly, one has now lost its life last night. This brings a total number of hunts to 10 kills in past five days. I can't but congratulate the brothers for their achievement.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Save China's Tigers to Fund Wild Cat Conservation Worldwide

Save China's Tigers, a charitable foundation funding pioneering work with the South China Tiger, has broadened its scope of conservation goals from tigers to include all wild cats around the world. Today it launched the "Wildcat Fund” to encourage and support wild cat research, conservation, as well as reintroduction efforts for highly endangered and vulnerable wild cats.

There are currently thirty-seven species of wild cats, with many facing uncertain futures. The best known are the big cats including tigers, lions, and jaguars. Of these, the South China Tiger is the most endangered and is on the verge of extinction. However, three-quarters of the world's wild cats are smaller species and many of these are also highly endangered such as the Iriomote Cat, the Andean Mountain cat, Borneo Bay cat, and the Flat-headed cat.

Historically, funding in wild cat conservation has favoured the large, charismatic species such as lions, cheetahs and tigers. While giving priorities to cat species having the IUCN “Endangered” status or above, Save China’s Tigers’ “Wildcat Fund” also encourages projects conducting pioneering biological and ecological research of little known cat species in an effort to increase understanding of these species and help design improved conservation actions.

Ms. Li Quan, Founding Director of Save China's Tigers said: "My passion has always been for all cats of the world. I am very pleased to be able to contribute to the conservation of all of them through Save China's Tigers’ Wildcat Fund. Over the years, we have realized that for some endangered species to survive in the wild, a multi-disciplinary approach combining captive breeding, rewilding, habitat protection and restoration, and re-introduction can make a valuable contribution to wildlife conservation and the environment. Save China’s Tigers was the first to experiment with this alternative in big cat conservation and we have made a number of significant breakthroughs in tiger conservation. We would like to apply our expertise and share our experience to help save other endangered cats of the world", says Quan.

Projects applying for funding must be proactive conservation projects led by wild cat biologists and ecologists with proven academic record, but more importantly over eight years of field experience. Proposals should not include office and administrative expenditures. "We would like to focus on field activities to counter the trend in conservation where valuable donor funding pays for office infrastructure and expensive conferences. And, we would like to make the projects we fund accountable for our benefactors", Quan added.

One of the first projects that Save China's Tigers will be funding is Brazilian Jaguar expert Dr. Peter Crawshaw's research vehicle to support his various wild cat conservation projects including jaguars, cougars etc. Another is the rewilding and reintroduction of a female Oncilla (aka "Tiger Cat" and "Leopardus tigrinus") in Brazil to learn if it is feasible to think of reintroducing individuals into the wild from captive conditions, as well as to study the behaviour of wild individuals of this little known cat.

Funding applications can be made at any time by completing an application form which can be downloaded from our website. The grant committee will be chaired by Save China's Tigers founder Li Quan with a panel of experienced cat scientists. Any inquiries must be sent to:

Save China's Tigers would like to use this opportunity to thank all its supporters for their tremendous contribution to our historic Chinese Tiger conservation effort.

Conservation Finance International
Photo by: Yuan Ye

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Microchipping Drama -Never Underestimate the Power of an Angry Tiger

Amid much progress and excitement with our new initiatives, I arrived back at Laohu Valley last night. Hulooo and brothers greeted me in Tiger's Roar Camp. Hulooo, though still welcoming, seemed not as attached to humans as before, which is a good sign. He is either reaching adolescent rebellious age, just like a human teen, or life in the wild is finally turning him into a real tiger.

They were put into Tigers Roars only last night, so I was surprised to see all three of them with faint blood stains on their ruff, and a bit on their legs. They were still licking them off. A kill or two must have been made overnight! We were able to find out later they made one kill, since 28 blesbok remained out of the 29 we had yesterday , but we will not know who was the hero of the pack although we all speculated that Coco would be the one. Never underestimate the others, I said to myself, as Madonna turned out to be hunting "secretly" while we all marvelled at TigerWoods' remarkable abilities when they were young!

King Henry and Princess were separated from mom this morning and were kept in Riverine Camp, in anticipation of their microchipping this afternoon by the Vet Dr. Joseph Van Heerden. This would be a second attempt as the first attempt to microchip them failed when they were two months old. Madonna and cubs had done remarkly well in the past month and made 10 kills in one month while in Tigers Roars and supported themselves completely on their own. We had to buy new game to replensh the stock last week. At this rate, the young tigers will all become proficient hunters in no time!

Joseph arrived before 2pm and checked on King Henry and Princess to estimate their weight. It is important to have as accurate an estimate as possible to apply the right amount of medicine. Joseph is a very cautious vet, and I wrote before how impressed I was with him as he was very cautious in terms of drugs and dosage. The first one to get the dart was King Henry. He dropped down after 10 minutes but as soon as the Vet poked him with a stick to see if he had fallen asleep, he jumped up and ran off. He struggled to stay up walking away but sleep overcame him again. The Vet decided to give him another dose of sedatives. This time he fell asleep just enough for the vet to microchip him but did not give us enough time to apply antidote before he suddenly woke up and stumbled off again. Joseph eventually managed to catch up with him and apply half a dose of antidote to KH but gave up after a bit of chase and decided to let him wake up on his own, which could take quite a while. Fortunately, KH fell into slumber again later and gave the vet opportunty to apply the leftover antidote.

The Vet then prepared sedatives for Princess who, having seen her brother fall, became totally wild. She ran around the fenceline while the vet was about to shoot the dart. But her next move was beyond anyone's imagination! Just when we were turning the vehicle around, we suddenly saw this flash of orange fur flying through the gate separating Catkins Camp and Princes ran off into the trees on the other side of the fence!! How on earth she did that we did not know. We drove to the gate and saw the wires of the gate were split wide open. Microchipping seemed to be always full of drama. We had JenB climbing up the electric fence during their microchipping last year; not mentioning King Henry and Princess couldn't be caught the first time when we tried microchipping; and now we have Princess going through fence! One can never overestimate the difficulties enough in these kinds of vetinary undertakings!

Having now given up the microchipping of Princess, we moved to Cathay, planning to take up the long-dead radio-collar off her. After all that difficulties with the young cubs, we were very anxiuous. However, Cathay was indeed a worldly tiger, and came to the fence to greet us. The whole darting, de-collaring and antidote applying process went smoothly, much to our relief, to compensate for the troubles we had with King Henry and Princess.

We did not complete our tasks fully today, but we learned a big lesson, that no fence is a guarantee of protection when faced with an angry tiger! We now have to leave Princess's microchipping for some time in the future, once more!