Monday, 19 December 2011

TIGER MOTHERS ARE FANTASTIC MOTHERS


Ever since Huwaa was reunited with her family she would spend some time with mother and little brothers and some other time with King Henry to continue their bonding. King Henry is a gentle soul in the company of Huwaa, putting up with all her antics continuously, even though he has matured sexually and looking for females through calling and Huwaa is just too young for him.

Meanwhile, Hulooo is even more fascinated now that there are increased activities and excitement with the addition of Huwaa in his neighbouring camp. He spends significant among of time gluing himself to the gate between the two camps which does not please Cathay at all. Having charged through the fence to attack King Henry a few month before, she now decides her grown-up son Hulooo is the threat and picks a daily fight with him through the gate, destroying quite a bit of the metal mesh on her side in the process. Hulooo refuses to give way. Perhaps because he didn't socialize properly as a tiger that he doesn't know that he should do as Henry does -chuffing back at Cathay to appease her? Poor Hulooo- I wonder what goes on in his head? Does he find his little siblings so amusing to watch? Or  does he want to relive his childhood? Even at this age he is certainly pretty playful with his brother JenB, stalking and chasing him, and jumping around happily in the open grassland at times. JenB refuses to be drawn into the fight between his mother and brother, wondering what is fuss is all about and looking very puzzled and embarassed by the showdown.
 
Temporarily named Alpha & Beta, the little brothers emulated sister Huwaa's every step and follows her up the trees if she climbs it and down into the water drainage if she chooses so. No doubt Cathay finds in her a good baby sitter as her boundless energy could keep her little sons entertained to no bound, freeing up her time to pick on Hulooo.

I am continuously amazed at what good mothers the tigers are. Cathay always let her babies eat first even though she was so hungry. Reuniting with Huwaa means that she has to share food with one more mouth but she is as gentle to her daughter now as she was when Huwaa was a little baby. Once just after she started feeding on a leftover carcass, when all her children decided to follow her example and monopolized it. She just let them eat while lying a few meters away. Only when they have their share would she starts eating. When Alpha tries to take it over again, she would warn him off but never does she touch them a finger.

Madonna proves to be even more extraordinary. Being in the camp far more removed from any human activities and shielded from Cathay has given her added sense of security and she hasn't  once paced with a cub in her mouth during the two months since she gave birth on Oct 9th, unlike when she was raising King Henry and Princess which worried me sick but from which I also learned a big lesson and therefore put her into this fairly isolated camp. Since we accidentally saw she actually has three cubs, we wanted to catch them and microchip them when they are about two months and still easy. But first we need to understand their movement and find out where she hides them. Madonna wouldn't take the bait! One day she tried to distract us by walking to a completely different direction when she saw us on the watch and she wandered around pretending not to be interested in getting back to her cubs. She won this round.

The next day we shut her into an adjacent camp from early in the morning thinking she may call the cubs out sometime during the day, but we waited in shifts in vain -she didn't make a single call to her cubs. After the sunset I knew she won again so she was let back into her camp. One would have thought that after a whole day being away from her cubs she would rush to them. But NO! Seeing humans still around she took her time, smelling the grass and rolling on the ground as if she was in no hurry. Suddenly roars came from KH causing one of her cubs' reactive cry. Instead of running to her cubs, she ran in the opposite direction into the river! The crying cub emerged, puzzled why mom ran away, but quickly followed her in her foot steps...Clearly even during such emergency situation she did not forget to fool us..

I gave up on sighting them, never mind catching them and microchip them. We informed the vet Joseph not to bother being on standby any more and we will wait a month or two more till they become a bit more independent and can follow Madonna out of the cover.

Yesterday was the day I decided not to bother monitoring Madonna and her cubs. I was just watching Hulooo and JenB when loud cries of cubs came out of Madonna's camp, in response once more to KH's roars. I rushed over into KH"s camp from where I could see into Madonna's camp and there! She and her three mini tigers were again on the river bank on the other side, in the shade of trees. I battled to see them even through the Binos but I could see two cubs suckling for a while before Madonna decided it was time to get up and wandered off. The two suckling cubs were taken by surprise and looked puzzled but quickly followed mom away. 

I drove around to another side of the camp and saw Madonna patrolling the fences by herself. How on earth she give instructions to her cubs to stay undercover just puzzles me. I know how tigers invite others to participate in something -by chuffing, but how on earth do they tell them don't follow me out in the open and stay where you are?! I did see the tiger mothers snarl mildly when they get a bit annoyed from their cubs constant energetic play or when their cubs wouldn't let mothers eat at all,  so perhaps that's what they do.

I must confess that watching the tiger mothers and how they raise their cubs got to be the most gratifying experience one can have on this planet. I wouldn't exchange it with anything else.

-TigerLi from Laohu Valley Reserve
Dec 15, 2011

Monday, 12 December 2011

327’s Baby Miracle



327 enjoying his moment

Well I judged too soon. Over the years there had been all kinds of comments and predictions either on the South China Tigers or on our tiger rewilding project.  Comments even by respected professionals included that 327 may have trouble breeding, not just because he got one testes but also because his lower back didn’t develop well  (which I could only assume was caused by being in  a cage during the early part of his life- he was a big fellow and had no opportunities to run and exercise) so he may have trouble inserting his sperm properly into a female.

We always had just one or two cubs in a litter for the past few years and I almost began to believe that some of these comments may have some truth in that, though I kept  hoping they were proven wrong.  Last week when we sighted Madonna’s two babies, I took it for granted that she had just two cubs, yet for another time. It was a bit disappointing but hey, we got two more babies, and offspring of 327 who unfortunately passed away in September.

It was the two-Months’ birthday of Madonna’s babies today. I was checking if Huwaa had eaten her first kill during today’s afternoon monitoring session. Having no luck in finding where she had hidden her kill (Bless her!), I decided to drive down to the same spot where I saw Madonna’s two cubs last week. Huwaa followed our vehicle over and encountered Madonna pacing along the fence on the other side. She seemed much more relaxed now seeing Huwaa, unlike a few months ago when she treated Huwaa with hatred. She even replied to Huwaa’s signature chuffs a couple of times.  While I was wondering if Madonna’s cubs were in the same spot in the dense thicket inside the river when I noticed that Huwaa’s attention was entirely drawn by something down there.  The cubs must have been there!  Huwaa tried to find ways to get closer to the fence for better look or to get over to the other side of the fence but there was no way due to the electric wires. She had to resign herself to sitting next to the fence and watch.  It was truly amazing that Huwaa could see something , since I could not detect the slightest moving of any grass or tree branches through my binos.

After some pacing Madonna went back towards the river, albeit hesitant- I was sure she didn’t want to reveal the positions of her babies but she couldn’t do much about either our vehicle or Huwaa who betrayed the locations of her babies.  I was wondering if Huwaa’s infectious chuff would flush out the cubs when out of the river thicket, there emerged a tiny tiger head.  Madonna went over to the cub, chuffing gently and licking its head.. “looks like a boy”, Vivienne said, “the head is kinda broad”.  My heart sank and I didn’t want to believe her.  I quickly took out my video camera and started recording this rare sight. The fence was in between but I was hopeful we might be able to see the gender of the cub through the magnifying function.  

I played the video back there and then, magnifying the image several fold. “Looks like a girl, “ now Vivienne said. “Are you sure?” I asked and so hoped it to be true. I played the video back a few more times and it was clear that we were looking at a girl. I was elated..
While we were celebrating this fact, Madonna headed back deep into the river thicket, followed by her wobbling little cub. It was hard to see through the thicket but I could hear her chuffing, perhaps making connections to her other cub who had been calling her in a quiet call.

Then loud sounds ensured as if someone was crunching on bones. Perhaps she started feeding?  While I was looking at the video image of her baby daughter for the umpteenth time in pride and happiness,  Madonna led her babies out into the open on the other side of the river bank. “She has three,”  Vivienne said in astonishment. “What?!” I snatched my binos back from  her and started looking through in great excitement, “Three??! !”. But I could only see two cubs. “Perhaps I was imagining things?” Vivienne said in her usual humorous but even toned voice. I passed my binos back to her to double check, disappointed but taking it for granted. “It is three,” Vivienne confirmed, “I thought I was imagining things”. I looked once more into my binos and couldn’t be any happier as I saw three cute tiny stripy cubs frolicking in the grass and around mommy Madonna!
I published my last blog too soon. 

And, 327, you left a great legacy!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Vulnerable Little "Beast Kings"

The tiger is called "King of Beasts" in Chinese culture. When one sees in awe the beauty of such a great beast of a tiger-whether in zoo or in the wild, one can hardly imagine how vulnerable these magnificent kings could be when they are young.

In the wild, they are faced with all kinds of bacteria and viruses that their tiny bodies have a hard time to cope with. Then there are those venomous enemies such as the snakes, scorpions and even poisonous spiders. Further, other predators (including us humans) who compete for food and territory are constantly seeking opportunties to eliminate the competitions' young while they are easy to kill.

In captivity, certain dangers faced in the wild by the tigers are replaced by others. A dirty environment could cause cubs to contract deseases easily but excessive hygiene could lead to weakened immune systems too. Captive tiger mothers often do not know what to do with them so humans have to look after the cubs. Without mother's milk for the first 24 hours, cubs are more prono to deseases. Tiger cubs are vulnerable for as long as six months old and that is why zoos do not even register their existence untill they have passed this critical period.

The South China Tiger's mortality rate is notoriously high in zoos-as much as 90 percent at one stage. Though this rate has been reduced to 60 percent due to improved nutrition, care and environment, you are still talking about 6 in 10 tiger cubs die.

The birth of our first little South China Tiger outside China, has given us great cause to celebrate - it has proven that the South China Tigers can breed better in a natural environment where they become healthier than being caged like prisoners. But it has also added extra sleepless nights to us all. Not only have we recruited outside expertise kindly sponsored by Lory Park Sanctuary to look after the cub full time, our entire manpower is allocated to helping the little tiger. We also have to adapt our rewilding strategies to suit his need as he is being hand fed at the moment.

Despite all we could do, it still remains to be seen if this little "King" will survive the first months. The scare today is a case in point. TigerWoods Junior was found throwing up his food-a milk mixture- this morning and his breath was also weak. He was quickly taken to a wildlife vet two hours away in Kimberly. I was mentally prepared for all possible consequences: the memories from the death of the Tiger Hope came back to me...

It was constipation. He has this problem and we have tried injecting liquid into his rear but now constipation occured higher up in his intestines. Unfortunately it is a hard problem to solve as this is the only substitute for mother's milk available and it does often cause constipation in animals. No substitute can truly replace mother's milk. The vet recommended treatment for the blockage and we have to see if it works overnight...

The bright side: Junior is breathing normally again, and he still has forty percent chance to live! (See Save China's Tigers website for weekly summary diaries).

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Madonna’s Baby Mystery


Over a month passed since Madonna’s supposed delivery of cubs on Oct 9th and we still had no idea of how many cubs she gave birth to and what gender they were. One thing we were certain was that she gave birth. I was asked by countless people as to why I was certain. Yes, I am certain, I'd say. Because I have experienced seven previous births and this is the eighth and by now I am pretty certain of their behaviour. However, at the back of my mind, I worried!

What if a predatory bird or reptile has also taken a cub or two? This happened to 327’s first cub born by Cathay.  These new cubs were also born in complete nature and have been growing up in a huge area with a little stream going through it lined with dense trees, far removed from human access. I was too worried that the cubs, if cornered in our effort to count them, may dash into the river and drown. We have neither heard a cry nor witnessed a shadow of these new-borns, also sired by 327 and they carry with them precious genetic materials left by their dad who got killed in September. I was worried sick: what if the cubs accidently fell into the river and drowned? We couldn’t possibly know as they are completely in the hands of nature. But I also had complete faith in Madonna. I knew she was looking after them. I could tell from her continuous mysterious ways of emerging and disappearing back into the dense covers.  

We were monitoring Huwaa and King Henry this afternoon. He has been so gentle and kind with little Huwaa, putting up with her antics and answering her constant and energetic tease with such grace, even though he knows she is too young to be his girlfriend. But when it comes to food, he was not so generous and even steal hers when he still has his. Otherwise he has been a good mentor.  Having been fed with a warthog this morning, I was wondering where KH was hiding himself and his prize, and if he had shared any with Huwaa when I heard his loud roars coming from the other side of the stream which also flows through the neighbouring camp that Madonna currently resides.

I was asking myself why he roared, and decided that it must be him calling for females to mate as he had also demonstrated sextual maturity a few months ago when he was seen mounting his sister Princess when suddenly loud cries of baby tigers came from Madonna’s camp! Looking across the fence, I saw, in a little open area on the river bank, one tiny little tiger crying his heart out!  Although the cries sounded as if they were caused by two sources, I could however only find one cub through my binoculars. But there got to be another as the mouth of this one in my viewfinder was not open when the cry still continued.  Failing to find mom Madonna, this cub decided to return to the dense vegetation in the stream and I followed it through my viewfinder. Soon my eyes encountered a second cub behind the tree branches. TWO CUBS INDEED! So we were right not only about the birth of these cubs but also their number! 

The cubs must have thought it was Mom Madonna  roaring so they came out from their hideout to answer her calls...

Seeing them healthy, round and mobile though still a bit wobbly truly made my day! ! The next challenge would be to find out their gender..We would have to do that when we microchip them, as is required by law...

Nov 30th 2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

First Time Mating by Second Generation Rewilded South China Tigers




A few months ago, we put Princess with Hulooo brothers, when signs ofsextual maturity of her and her brother King Henry were observed.  She was first put in with Hulooo but there seemed to be no love lost between them. Then I decided to put JenB & Coco in with her all at the same time to see if competition among the brothers may motivate some changes in her and/or Hulooo brothers behaviours.  Soon, I did notice her timidly trying to get close to the incredibly bonded brothers, which was an encouraging sign.

Then the party was broken from time to time, as she had to be moved out a couple of times due to her food getting stolen by the gang of brothers, and later the JenB & Coco had to move back to 100 ha hunting camp, etc after the snow-damaged fences were repaired.  Most recently, she was found alone with Hulooo. This morning, I saw her sneaking up to Hulooo rubbing her head against him, which was promptly shouldered off by Hulooo. Not taking the cue, she went anyway in front of him lying down crouching in the position that normally indicates an invitation of mating. I was excited to see that. Wow...Is she coming into Oestrus? She could be as she is now a bit over 3 years old. Her mother Madonna and Aunt Cathay however all sprayed profusely before they began their breeding career but Princess had not been observed to demonstrate such behaviour. Perhaps I was being too optimistic? Tiger keeper Vivienne confirmed that she also hadn’t noticed any spraying either.  Perhaps then I read into it too much? Perhaps neither she nor Hulooo are actually mature?

However, in the afternoon monitoring session, just while my and my visitors’ attention were focused on the lovely Cathay family, I suddenly saw, in the distance, Hulooo mounting Princess! I couldn’t believe my eyes and certainly couldn’t contain my excitement! Is this for real??? But all looked real: The roar that followed after mating, and the attempted slapping of Hulooo by Princess...

A second mating followed only two minutes later, confirming everything we saw. Within 30 minutes, we witnessed them mating five times. The usual shy Princess changed from a timid cat to a bold pursuer of love and traced Hulooo wherever he went. At one point, Hulooo’s attention was completely taken up by Cathay’s babies next door that he wouldn’t respond to Princess’ invitation, or perhaps they had been at it for the whole day that he felt like a rest? But that didn’t stop her.

So this is happening! This is for real!  I had underestimated Hulooo and had thought that being a hand-reared tiger he was too bonded to humans to take an interest in the finer sex. But I was wrong. Hulooo certainly demonstrated that he is a NATURAL at this!  However, unlike his mom and dad who had a romantic courtship due to their  intimate relationship prior to maturity, Hulooo and Princess’ mating was strictly business. And at times, Hulooo appeared to be almost reluctant..

I feel overwhelmed. And So proud...The second generation of rewilded South China Tigers in South Africa have now embarked their journey to procreate and maybe soon we will have third generation South China Tigers in SA? Fingers crossed. However, now that my one worry about their ability to mate is gone, the next one about their level of fertility has crept into my conscious....

Nov 27, 2011

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Huwaa Meet Little Brothers in Person




In no time, Huwaa has grown into a little beauty of nearly 10 months of age, while her little brothers completed four months in this world.  Temporarily named Alpha and Beta, the pair caused considerable amount of mischief to mom Cathay. Being the more daring of the two, Alpha often leads in such joyful jumps over either Mom or his sibling Beta, much to the visible annoyance of both.


But even  their combined energy cant not compete with that of Huwaa.  For the past few months King Henry has indulged her whims with good manners and huge amount of patience and has gone as far as playing happily with her. Our experiment of putting a tiger cub with an unrelated adult male has proven to be a another complete success, yet again much contrary to the traditional zoo wisdom. But perhaps King Henry enjoyed the company of Huwaa because he had been used to the company of his sister Princess until fairly recently?  But TigerWoods has also shown tolerance of Huwaa’s presence, putting up with her if necessary, albeit preferring his own solitary state of sleeping and eating.  The only one who was nasty to Huwaa was Madonna, but we forgive her.  After all, she was pregnant with her own babies at that time and had no intention of adopting her love rival’s daughter!


Perhaps the novelty value of Huwaa is wearing down, since King Henry doesn’t respond to Huwaa’s antics as much as before. Still my goal has been achieved: Huwaa and KH have formed a good bond which would make their potential future breeding easier; and KH would also be able to show Huwaa a trick or two hunting techniques.


Another hunting coach is of course Huwaa’s mom Cathay. Over the past four months, we continued to let Huwaa interact with Cathay from time to time even though she has been rearing her newborns.  It was clear that if Huwaa had a choice, she would have torn through the fence and making her little brothers her toys. In her eyes, her little brothers are so cute and playable. That was also the reason why her presence was banned from them for fear of her endangering their safety.

Now the little boys are mobile and sturdy, and at the same age as JenB and Coco when they were united with their big brother Hulooo, we let Huwaa meet them in person.

Huwaa was overjoyed, running towards them asa she was let in their Grass camp. The little boys were also pleasantly surprised, as they had been looking up to their little big sis for as long as they could remember.  Cathay, having found a good baby sitter in her daughter, promptly left the three of them and went patrolling the fence, throwing a few deafening roars at Hulooo  to warn him off her young ones. Poor Hulooo -all he probably wanted was to join in and be a child again. He bore no malice towards the little half-siblings. But mom Cathay doesn’t think so!
For the next hour or so, it was just the most wonderful scene one can ever witness, watching three little tigers chasing one another & ambushing one another with boundless energy and great gusto.  Alpha proves yet once more that he will be the leader of the two, probably for a while, as he occasionally unleased sounds the loudness of which doesn’t seem to fit such a little body.  He even followed Huwaa into adjacent camp to “terrorize” her, when it was time to let her retire for the night with KH.  Mom Cathay returned from her showdown with Hulooo after sunset, thanked Huwaa with warm chuffs for looking after her brothers, and dragged reluctant Beta away from the fence to settle into the darkness of the night. 

Another successful experiment that is going to do a lot of good for Huwaa and her family...

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Rewilding the South China Tiger

Dr. Jim Sanderson, Petri Viljoen2, Dr. Gary Koehler3, Dr. Nobuyuki Yamaguchi4, Dr. Laurie Marker5, Dr. Peter Crawshaw6, Dr. James L. David Smith7, Christine Pienaar8, Lu Jun9, Li Quan2, Stuart Bray2
1Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation
2Save China’s Tigers
32218 Stephanie Brooke, Wenatchee, WA 98801 USA,
4Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Qatar University
5Cheetah Conservation Fund
6Centro Nacional de Pesquisa e Conservacão de Mamiferos Carnivoros, Cenap/ICMBIO,
7Dept. Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota,
8Department of Environment & Nature Conservation, Northern Cape Province, South Africa
9National Wildlife Research and Development Center, State Forestry Administration, Beijing, China,

Rewilding the South China Tiger (1154 words)

Abstract
The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) was the victim of government-sponsored wildlife extermination teams operating from 1952 to 1970s. If the South China tiger exists at all in the wild, it is extremely rare. Captive facilities contained 100 individuals approximately at present. Save China’s Tigers, a not-for profit charity, was created to re-introduce the South China tiger in southern China. We provide background, an update, and future plans for the re-establishment of the South China tiger into its natural habitat.
Background
The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is the rarest of five extant tiger subspecies and is at best extremely rare and might well be extinct in the wild. Between 1952 and the mid 1970s government-sponsored wildlife elimination teams removed wildlife, including tigers, from China. A recent plan to reverse the decline of tigers globally does not include protecting the South China tiger and its habitat (Walston et al. 2010). Captive facilities in China house approximately 100 at present individuals and the rewilding center in South Africa has 13 individuals. The State Forestry Administration of China has endorsed re-establishing the South China tiger into several protected areas in the tiger’s former geographic area.
Save China’s Tigers, with offices registered in the UK, USA, Hong Kong, Australia and China was created in 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2011 respectively with the goal of re-establishing a genetically viable population of free-ranging South China tigers in restored native habitat through a program of captive breeding, rewilding, restoring the ecosystem and prey base, and releasing tigers in China, henceforth called the Chinese Tiger Reintroduction Project.
In 2002 Save China’s Tigers acquired the use of 17 sheep farms totaling approximately 33,000 ha near Philippolis, Free State/Northern Cape Provinces, South Africa. Over several years Laohu Valley was created by removing livestock and fences, and installing solar powered predator-proof fencing. In 2002 Save China’s Tigers and the National Wildlife Research and Development Center of the State Forestry Administration of China entered into a joint venture to implement this project. Laohu Valley Reserve is owned by the joint venture and operated for the benefit of the project and so not open to the public and is not a tourist destination. Unlike another tiger tourist facility adjacent to Laohu Valley, tourists are not permitted entry and no income is derived from “tiger viewing” at Laohu Valley.
Beginning in 2003, with China’s help, the project acquired two studbook registered South China tiger cubs, a male and female aged 7 and 8 months, respectively. These tigers were transferred to an enclosure at Mokopane Game Breeding Centre of the South African National Zoological Gardens while preparations were completed at Laohu Valley. These cubs, familiar only with concrete box display cages, were initially reluctant to leave the concrete pad adjacent to the gate of their otherwise natural enclosure.
Rewilding Process
We use the term rewilding to refer to a soft release process by which captive-born tigers gradually learn to survive on their own in a large natural enclosure and then they are eventually returned to a more natural environment. Rewilding is vital as the following examples show. When they first arrived in South Africa, the two cubs did not recognize a chicken carcass as food and they had to be fed chopped meat. Later, when they were presented with a live chicken, they approached it with curiosity. The cubs also had to become familiar with a natural environment. The first time their paws touched grass, they shook them as if they had stepped onto a foreign substance.
Between September, 2003 and December, 2009 four out of five South China tigers moved from China to Laohu Valley Reserves (LVR) survived. At LVR these tigers produced thirteen cubs of which ten cubs survived. The rewilding protocol, designed by Gus van Dyk, requires moving tigers among 40 and 100 ha enclosures for breeding and rewilding. Blesbuck (Damaliscus dorcas) was chosen as prey because it is easily managed within fences, readily available from local game farms, and is comparable in size to some native prey in China. South Africa was the ideal venue for this effort because large blocks of land and a variety of prey species are available, wildlife management practices are well understood and permitted by provincial and federal government, and wildlife managers are familiar with predator and prey management.
Ten or more blesbuck are released into electrified 40-100 ha enclosures and allowed time to become accustomed to the terrain before 1-3 tigers are released into the enclosure. Hunting success and failure are monitored daily. According to the rewilding protocol, if a tiger fails to hunt successfully within six days it will be given food so as to maintain its condition. A tiger’s hunting success is invariably poor immediately following its initial release in stocked enclosure. Though tigers are able to secure various small prey items such as guinea fowl, they required several months to a year to become effective hunters.
Our experience clearly demonstrates that captive-born tigers generally do not initially recognize potential prey, and that hunting is a learned behavior. Though the ability to hunt is innate, the skill necessary to hunt successfully takes many months to learn. These facts show that a soft release is vital to the rewilding process. To release captive-born inexperienced sub-adult or adult tigers to a wild area, even one with abundant prey, would be both cavalier and irresponsible.
Rewilding in China
Using captive large felid populations to restore wild populations, as presented by Hunter (1996) and Christie & Seidensticker (1999) and experiences from LVR, offer a strategy for re-establishing South China tigers in China. Reintroduction in China will follow the IUCN guidelines (ref – IUCN webpage) for species reintroductions and lessons learned from other reintroduction programs, both successful and failed.
South African wildlife management experience suggests that large fenced enclosures are needed. These areas must contain sufficient free ranging wild prey so that animals can learn to hunt on their own. The project is in an early phase, but all second generation tigers (except those born recently) have also passed the first stage of rewilding. They now hunt on their own. The next stage is to prepare reintroduction sites in China and to build up natural prey at these sites.
Acknowledgements
We thank the State Forestry Administration of China, the Free State Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the Department of Environment & Nature Conservation, Northern Cape Province, South Africa, and Mr. Gus van Dyk.
References
Du Toit, J. and C. Marais. 2010. South African Country Life. Tigers of the Free State. Pages 30-33.
Hunter, L. 1996. Secondary Reintroductions of Large Cats in Africa, Cat News 14.
Christie, S. and J. Seidensticker. 1999. Riding the Tiger, [complete reference]
Walston, J. J.G. Robinson, E. L. Bennett, U. Breitenmoser, G. A. B. da Fonseca, J. Goodrich, M. Gumal, L. Hunter, A. Johnson, K. U. Karanth, N. Leader-Williams, K. MacKinnon, D. Miquelle, A. Pattanavibool, C. Poole, A. Rabinowitz, J. L. D. Smith, E. J. Stokes, S. N. Stuart, C. Vongkhamheng, and H. Wibisono. 2010. Bringing the tiger back from the brink – The six percent solution. PLoS Biology 8(9): e1000485doi:10. 1371/journal.pbio.1000485.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Pioneering Tiger Dies in South African Reserve

Sept 26, Laohu Valley Reserve, Free State, South Africa

Save China’s Tigers is deeply saddened to announce the death of a South China Tiger under its care in the evening of September 17.

An adult male tiger broke through a gate of adjoining tiger camps to attack another adult male but was subsequently killed by the second male.

Both tigers were part of a decade-long conservation project to rewild and breed critically endangered South China tigers before returning them to protected nature reserves in China.

While feeding some tigers, staff heard loud roaring and growls from another tiger camp. Rushing to inspect, staff found one large male tiger had another male pinned down to the ground and was holding him by the throat. They immediately started shouting and blowing vehicle horns to no avail. They then entered the camp in a truck and drove off the other tiger, separating him into another camp.

The pinned tiger, named ‘327’ was found dead and closer inspection noted throat injuries. The entire skirmish lasted only about five minutes. An assessment of the circumstances reveals that 327 had charged right through electrified gate separating the tigers to attack the other male. Subsequent testing of fencing voltages revealed the fencing was still operating at recommended performance, however, the tiger had broken through the gate area which does not have the added electrified tripwire security. All gates on the reserve had been upgraded with added steel mesh protection after a similar fence-breaking incidence a couple of months earlier, but this was one of the four remaining gates that had not yet been upgraded.

Inspection of the second male showed no obvious injuries except a few scratches. 327 was the only first generation tiger at Laohu who was not put into our rewilding program due to his age when he came to South Africa. It is evident that he was no match for the second male who has gone through rewilding training for six years and acquired superb hunting skills, and who killed 327 easily despite being smaller than him .

An autopsy has been performed by an experienced veterinarian who confirmed 327’s cause of death.

Born in captivity, 327 was four and a half years old when he was flown from China’s Suzhou Zoo in April 2007 as part of the Save China’s Tigers project’s innovative rewilding and breeding program in collaboration with the Chinese government. 327 was named after his stud-book registration number. Hand-reared by human parents, he was extremely habituated to humans. Declining to mate with the two tigresses, he was banished to a natural environment for about a year feeding entirely on natural prey. He thrived and ended up fathering three litters of four healthy cubs (and potentially more to come by another female in October).

Save China’s Tigers Founding Director, Ms. Li Quan said that she and her team are devastated by the loss of the tiger – “With so few South China tigers left, the loss of just one breeding male is profound. I am however glad that he lived half of his life like a wild tiger, instead of perishing in a zoo cage. He died a heroic death, tiger-style.”

Reserve Manager Hein Funck said: “Although I only knew him for a short time, he made a big impression. I’ll miss his cheeky strut and his loving rumble.”

Tigers have complex behaviors and while adult siblings often share a prey in the wild, males will have to fight for territory in order to survive and to mate with females. Laohu Valley Reserve is currently home to eleven tigers where they have been undergoing rewild training and participating in a breeding program that counts 8 healthy second generation tigers born in SA – three of them sired by 327. The IUCN Red Listed South China tiger as critically endangered due to pest elimination campaign in the 60’s and seventies as well as habitat encroachment and loss of prey due to development.

“Despite our best efforts, we were unable to prevent this unfortunate loss. We have learned another lesson - we are now dealing with rewilded and highly intelligent big cats that can hunt and kill efficiently. We will need to improve our safety standards and protocols accordingly. As one scientist noted, in a perverse way this accident shows that the rewilding project has proven to be a success. 327 was a majestic tiger and will be missed by all of us who are fond of him. In spite of these sometimes heart-breaking challenges, we at Save China’s Tigers remain committed to our work of saving the South China tiger from extinction and restoring its ecosystem for generations to come.” said Ms. Quan.

Memorial donations are accepted in honor of 327 at: http://english.savechinastigers.org/donatenow

Or email: info@savechinastigers.org

Detailed report will be available upon request.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Not Everyone Likes Huwaa


The little baby tigers showed their little faces sparingly during the last few days when the Chinese reporters came to visit, while Cathay continued to patrol around her camp, warning all the nosy boys off her and her babies butt. After all the strangers had left, mom chuffed her babies out of the donga to have a good straddle around. The little boys wobbled onto a patch of dry grass in succession and it was clear they were starting to play, though they were still so unsteady. They waved their fat little arms as if pounding the other one and climbed on top of one another. Their achievement today was climbing a thick branch of a big tree about half meter off the ground. The first one managed pretty quickly but the second cub pondered over it for quite some time before making the attempt. He succeeded only half way, getting off the branch the way he climbed up, while the first cub disappeared from the other side.

Seeing that Madonna’s hind legs had been loosing condition and needed some exercise, I decided to also let Madonna to go into the hunting camp with TigerWoods and Huwaa on Sept 27th, if her test meeting with Huwaa was not too dramatic. She may be pregnant, and if so she might not be able to have any hunting exercise for yet some more months to come if she gives birth mid-September. It would anyway be good to have two hunting teachers. Madonna didn’t show much emotion towards Huwaa when eventually all three were let into the mini camp just before going into the Tigers' Roars, so the gate was opened to let them move into it.

TigerWoods was the first to go in and having been absent for several years from it, he explored and sniffed. Huwaa followed him in, playing with his tail which annoyed the hell of him. However, all the male tigers had been very patient with her, allowing her rather energetic taps on their butts, however irritating that is, but running away sometimes. Huwaa was distracted by the humans watching her, letting step dad getting away steadily, disappearing into the trees. Afraid that she may have no one to follow in a huge new camp, I got all humans into vehicles, thus damping all of Huwaa’s hope of playing with them. Madonna uttered a little unpleasant sound after she entered the Tiger's Roar and when Huwaa tried also patting her butt. She didn’t make a huge fuss, allowing her trailing behind by a few meters, when the two also disappeared into the trees.

When we checked on Huwaa yesterday morning in her new home, she only came out when the predator whistle was sounded. She was not in a hurry thought she was very happy to see all the human visitors. Perhaps she was allowed to share some of the two blesbok kills TigerWoods and Madonna made over night? We couldn’t be sure but she didn’t seem to be hungry-just showed off her acrobatic skills. In the afternoon, she answered her rote call from across the little river, jumping and diving across the river and into the grasses. There was still no begging for food. It made me wonder if she was feeding off TW or Madonna’s kills?

This morning, I wanted to check if she was actually spending the past two nights on her own or with an adult tiger so we rote called with predator whistle. Only Madonna came, while TW was still nowhere to be seen. Madonna however was not that friendly to Huwaa, snarling at her. But no fight seemed to have broken. It was clear that Madonna was not Cathay and did not treat Huwaa with the same care and patience.

It was not until this afternoon when I realized how much grudges Madonna bore towards Huwaa. As usual, Huwaa answered my rote call and came to where I was standing by the gate. But from the corner of her eyes she saw Madonna in the distance by the little river and froze. When Madonna started making her way over towards us, Huwaa suddenly turned and run like a fugitive towards the opposite direction along the fence and up the hill, tail between her legs and checking her back to see if Madonna might be close. My calling after her was not enough to stop her. I realized there must have been something wrong and only managed to catch up with the little girl and slowly coached her back to the gate by assuring her that I was there to protect her, hoping to get her out of the Tigers' Roars. However, Madonna had arrived. She uttered a menacing snarl and charged towards Huwaa. Poor little Huwaa at least knew how to run and to avoid Madonna’s aggression. There were a few near misses as Huwaa tried to reach the gate which I was waiting to open for her, but which Madonna decided to guard against and chased Huwaa around. Only the approaching sound of Vivienne’s vehicle distracted Madonna a little so I was able to get Huwaa out of the Tigers' Roars camp and into the mini camp. She was grateful to be over the ordeal and rubbed her head gently against my leg and followed me through Catkins Camp into quarantine and then into the corner camp where Cathay was waiting for her.

Mom is mom. Huwaa needed the consolation. Unlike the snarls and hisses that Huwaa received from Madonna, she was showered with from mom before they were even let into the same camp with Cathay. Huwaa unleashed all her pent-up feelings onto her mother and jumped about Cathay energetically. Despite her hunger Cathay bore patiently Huwaa’s antics, allowing her to abuse her good self. Even when she was fed up with all the pounding on her butt and her face and wanted to talk Huwaa down, she was gentle -careful not to hurt her. The difference between Cathay and Madonna’s attitudes towards Huwaa couldn’t be more clear-tiger mothers recognize their own offsprings! There was no doubt that Madonna knew Huwas was Cathay’s baby and was nasty to her. Jealousy? I have no doubt.

Meanwhile, Huwaa’s hunting training has to wait for a few weeks, till Madonna and TW have finished hunting in the Tigers' Roars…







Aug 28th, 2011
TigerLi in Laohu Valley

Into Nature They Moved


The gates that lead to Ripples were opened yesterday afternoon. Excited Cathay even ignored the whole blesbok carcass and went deep into the trees and grasses, sniffing and spraying, enjoying the sweet air of nature. The next morning I first saw Cathay mock-charging her boys –Hulooo brothers who were in the camp next door, warning them not to come close to her little treasures of baby boys. All her grown-up sons were excited by the presence of their mother and huddled by the fence to have a peep into the trees, grasses and bushes for any sight of their little brothers. But the little brothers’ cries could only be heard coming from somewhere in the camp.. I only managed to see one later in the morning -they settled well in their new home. I couldn’t help but smiling at myself when I recalled the comic scenes of the day before trying to weigh the cubs before Cathay came back to move them. The cub crouched firmly on all fours and I could not lift him by his neck so I had to hold his two chubby arms. But once we got his weight-a whooping six kilo for a little fur ball like that, he refused to get off the scale, holding onto it like a turtle! At least I didn’t get any clawing from him as from Huwaa the other day while trying to remove the ticks from her fur.

Meanwhile, it is also time for Huwaa to learn a trick or two about hunting. She is nearly seven months old and it is important for her to start going on hunting trips with mom, as in the wild. But mom is busy rearing Huwaa’s little brothers who are way too small for any hunting training. Fortunately, everyone at Laohu seemed to love Huwaa- her big cousin King Henry, and her step dad TigerWoods, whom I introduced her to two days ago. Considering that TigerWoods has not had any opportunity to hunt for a few years, I wanted him to get some exercise, so plans were made for TigerWoods to be Huwaa’s hunting teacher in the beginning.

Thankfully, repairs of the fences of the 40 ha Tigers’ Roars hunting camp was finished today (and fingers crossed that no more snow storm will come this way for some time to come). We needed to procure some prey for TW and Huwaa immediately so they can start their program soon enough, in time for JenB and Coco to return to 100 ha Hunter's Palace camp to resume their GPS monitored hunting activities, which were unfortunately interrupted by the snow storm and the damaged fences. Unless the prey in Tigers’ Roars is completed removed, there will be no way we can move JenB brothers across to the Hunter's Palace on the other side of Tigers’ Roars camp. Also we cant have any activities/disturbances in the Tigers’ Roars camp in order to have good scientific data for JenB brothers’ GPS monitoring data.

Our ever resourceful Reserve Manager Hein managed to find a very quick solution. A small game capture team of two men showed up this afternoon. Game capture is a very specialized aspect of wildlife conservation in which South Africa not only invented but excelled. They can catch game as big as the elephant and as fast as the sprinbok. In fact without these skills, SA would not be able to boast their leading status in wildlife management. As we only need a small number of blesbok for the hunting camp for now, a different technique from the one normally used was applied today. As the chopper flies over the game, a net would drop on one or two animals which are caught alive. The operation went smoothly in quick rythm and I couldn’t help but admiring the lifestyle of the capture team.. It felt more like a sport than making a living. I couldn’t help but think if I were reincarnated as a man in South Africa, this could be one of the careers I’d be found in. But nothing will ever run completely smoothly in my life. On our way out of the velt when the capture was finished, we got stuck in the mud. It is hard to imagine how ridiculous this is unless one is from as dry a region as the Karoo. Some of the land at Laohu Valley is still soaked in water from the flood we suffered in January and continuous rains till March. This looked like a mini Okavango Delta in the making!

We had to be rescued by our tractor in the end but the blesbok arrived in the hunting camp safe and relieved. It will be a very interesting week coming, as I look forward to watching Cathay with her little babies in the natural environment, and Huwaa trailing uncle TigerWoods in his hunt...






Aug 26th 2011
TigerLi in Laohu Valley

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Huwaa Meet Her Baby Brothers

A cold front came in last night, but Cathay and her babies stayed outside the breeding centre, which we allowed for the first time. This morning I saw the babies well sheltered from the hauling wind between the tree trunk and the wooden shed, huddled around each other.

Huwaa, who had been waken up by our morning call, was trying her best to get us pay attention to her. The baby tigers saw that and walked wobbly out of their hidden spot towards her but stopped midway. Seeing that, Cathay went over and gently lifted each one up in her well-controlled mouth and moved the babies close to the fence where Huwaa was getting excited on the other side of the fence. She was so thrilled to see her baby brothers for the first time and she tried to reach out to them through the fence to play with them. Fortunately the metal mesh stopped her paws from getting through, as being still a child herself, she would have no idea how fragile her baby brothers are and how they could simply be played to death by her.

Cathay retreated into the wooden shelter and simply kept a watchful eye, secure in the knowledge that her little daughter could not accidentally hurt her babies due to the fence between them even though Huwaa has no idea how deadly her paws and teeth could actually be. The little cubs seemed to know the creature on the other side was their elder sister and tried to reach out to her. They stood up on their not-yet-so strong little legs in that attempt to get closer to Huwaa. Thus they played and played..

Cathay certainly couldn’t have found a better baby sitter than Huwaa who kept her increasingly feisty cubs entertained. I feel greatly relieved as well, as I have plans to put Huwaa back with both her mom and her baby brothers together a few months down the road so they can all learn hunting from mom Cathay at the same time.

After a while, Cathay decided that they had enough excitement and proceeded to gently gently carry the first baby back to the hiding spot. Except that the little cub wanted more of his elder sister and walked wobbly back to Huwaa while Cathay was carrying the second cub back to their shielded spot. But on hearing the cry of his little twin brother, the wandering cub went back into the comfort of his mom’s care and his brother’s embrace, where they dreamed their day dreams through the cold windy grey day...

The reason that Cathay and her two cubs were kept in the breeding center/quarantine camp during the first month of their births was to shield them from potential predators that could take their lives, as happened to another of Cathay’s cubs in Dec 2009. Now that they can walk, a bit wobbly albeit pretty speedy, I decided to let them move into Ripples camp where they can grow up in a natural environment.







Monday, 4 July 2011

United We Fight for the Survival of the Wild Cats

I was invited to give a keynote speech at the 40th Annual & Anniversary Conference of FCF (Feline Conservation Federation of America) on June 11th in Orlando, Florida. FCF is an organization whose members are private owners of exotic cats for conservation and education purposes: http://www.felineconservation.org

It was good to be among kindred spirits and these cat owners are all devoted to their exotic friends, big or small and they are essential in educating the American public about wildlife and endearing them to animals. I was truly honoured to share our project’s experiences with them. I met some very interesting people and some very interesting cats there too. It was also interesting to know that some oppositions they face are similar to ours and come from the same sources.

Here are a few photos from the event.


TigerLi and FCF advocates



Gift of Handmade artwork to TigerLi from FCF members


Visit to Joel Slavens Animal training facilities


Jean, TigerLi, Dr Sanderson and Mindy


Tiger cub


Dan, Dr Sanderson, and TigerLi


Bobcat kittens


Eden Tran & Madonna Painting


FCF Doc Antle



TigerLi

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Tigers Future at Our Hands

Comment on “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival “ By John Vaillant
http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Story-Vengeance-Survival-Borzoi/dp/0307268934/

I am grateful to John Vaillant for going deep into the Tiger and producing a vivid portrait of this highly intelligent and emotionally rich predator, which, were we to put aside our arrogant assessment of our own uniqueness, is every bit as heart-rending and impressive as homo sapiens. In my eight years of rewilding the captive-born South China Tigers (the first generation of which came from Chinese zoos), I have observed every aspect of this large cat's emotions: love, affection, anger, frustration, hunger, sadness, fear, and gratitude. I identify with Mr. Valliant's comment on the tiger's analytical abilities, which changed, for example, Cathay's behaviour towards me - from fear and avoidance in the very beginning when she was first brought out of Chinese zoo, to one of trust and gratitude after she was released in a natural environment in South Africa. When she later became a mother, she even entrusted me to watch over her new born cubs when she took a break in the open air.

The recent reunion of 4 month-old tiger cub Huwaa with her mother Cathay, caused Cathay to produce a unprecedented heart-rending vocalization that I can only describe as choking in tears (if she has any) from being overcome with joy, and as if she was saying "where on earth have you been? I thought I had also lost you to a bird of prey!" (as her sibling from the previous litter). More details of their behaviour can be found in my photo documentary book, "Rewilded, Saving the South China Tiger".

The sad fate of Inspection Tiger as described by Mr. Valliant, also echoes the many other and often larger issues as I have encountered in tiger conservation since I entered it accidentally ten years ago as a result of an awakening - arising from passion for the tigers and all things wild. Sadly, despite the hundreds of millions spent on tiger conservation in India and Russia, there is little result to show, were we to measure it with the numbers of tigers left in the wild as recently acknowledged in a CITES conference. Solutions need to be found on many levels, and not least that of human poverty around these last tiger reserves. Further, how can large NGOs and governments be held accountable for the millions of donor dollars and tax payer money. Unless practical solutions can be found, not necessarily at the expense of traditional methodology, and the tigers' survival is REALLY at the centre of tiger conservation, the tiger's future does not look that bright.

Li Quan,
Founder, Save China's Tigers