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:

Or email:

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