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)

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.
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.
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.
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.