Monday, 19 December 2011


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