Tuesday, 10 July 2012

South China Tiger Rewilding Guidelines - First Step to the Reintroduction of Captive Bred Tigers to the Wild

-Authored by Li Quan

I would like to thank the many scientists who gave me input in drafting this document, which is an accumulation of my 13 years of tiger conservation work, which started in 1999.
At the International Wildlife Management Congress (IWMC 2012), the South China Tiger Rewilding Guidelines was officially released. Since 2003, I have undertaken an unprecedented project to rewild zoo-born South China Tigers in South Africa to prepare them for their eventual return to their natural habitat in China in conjunction with China's Wildlife R&D Centre of the Forestry Academy. This pioneering project was ground-breaking in many areas: applying an unconventional approach and utilizing the expertise of a different country in a foreign location to fast-track the recovery of the most ancient, yet most endangered tiger in the world.
Below is an abstract of the Tiger Rewilding Guidelines that I have applied and a full version in both English and Chinese can be obtained here: http://www.savechinastigers.cn/file/2013/RewildingGuidelines.pdf 
Many wildlife management projects have been conducted throughout the world that may involve: rehabilitation, re-introduction or translocation. Few of these activities have successfully been conducted using captive bred predators. Rewilding describes the processes in which carnivores that have been in zoo conditions for generations and have no survival skills for the wild, re-learn the hunting and skills in a natural environment to prepare them to be reintroduced to the wild.
The South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is recognised by the IUCN as the most endangered of the remaining six extant subspecies of tigers. There are believed to be fewer than 30, if any at all, left in the wild. The only option to revive this tiger in the wild is through reintroduction of captive-bred individuals. OUr project aims to utilise rewilded captive bred tigers and their offspring as catalysts to restore and secure habitat for their release in China.  In the wild, offspring of tigers are known to spend up to 28 months with their mothers when they acquire and develop hunting and survival skills. Captive-bred tigers lack these essential hunting skills and need to be rewilded before they can be reintroduced.
Tiger rewilding initially started in China in the 1990’s. South Africa was used to fast track the rewilding project. Five tigers were transferred from zoos in China to South Africa since 2003.
The tigers have been confined to one area of the reserve, subdivided into different-sized camps (0.5 to 100ha), depending on objectives for individual tigers. The number of camps increased over the years as the number of tigers increased, and the sizes of the hunting camps were modified as tigers became more experienced and skilled, and to accommodate the tigers’ development and mimic their movement according to their age. The tiger camps are secured with electrified fences.
There are three categories of camp sizes, according to the age of the tigers and their ability to hunt: quarantine/smaller camps, intermediate camps, advanced rewilding camps. All camps are equipped with natural or supplemental water supplies.
The Rewilding methodology was initially developed for us by Gus Van Dyk, former Carnivore Manager at Pilanesberg National Park of South Africa, and been fine-tuned throughout our rewilding programme, which has followed “Adaptive Management” procedures. The methods have evolved as the project progresses, to suit the changing needs and situations.
Zoo-born tigers that originated from China, were introduced to ungulate prey where rewilding involved “self-taught” or "trial and error" learning. Second generation tigers born in South Africa, were rewilded by: 1) learning survival skills from their mothers-“Natural Learning (NL)”, and 2) a combination of mother-teaching and NL without their mother’s accompaniment.
Components such as “Pavlov” training, prey species and their sizes, animal and human safety procedures, human habituation, veterinarian provisions, data collection/monitoring, treatment, and ethics are discussed in the rewilding guidelines.
Details of fencing structure, camps characteristics, prey species for hunting training and feeding, as well as monitoring sheets are also included in the rewilding guidelines.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Hunting-training Madonna’s Three Beautiful Daughters

Only two and half months passed but Madonna’s three little daughters have grown that much more. They are still as adorable as before but have gained a lot more confidence by now. Even the shyest of all, Zeta, ventures to come out and investigate me, albeit keeping a long distance between us.  Now I certainly don’t have to be worried that they would be too wild that we couldn’t help them in time of veterinary need, or that they would be too stressed from human presence causing potential death.

They are extremely inquisitive. Anything new or that moves will focus their attention. Vita, formerly named Xa, is the most daring, being always the first to approach the object, and trailed closely by Yoya. Zeta is still the shyest girl of all, preferring to keep a distance or hide inside the trees to observe.  Like any shy creatures, she needs mom the most, who certainly gives her  plenty more confidence. Mom Madonna seems to understand this, as each time Zeta is out of sight for too long, she goes in search of her, calling. And once united, Madonna would shower Zeta with chuffs, head rubs and sweet tender talk.

The little girls reached 7 months before we started giving them “ formal” hunting training. Of course they had been seen chasing the odd mongooses and birds from time to time and I am sure nature keeps them busy and entertained, out of the sight of us humans.  In the wild, tiger moms would bring her little cubs game to play with in order to slowly build their hunting abilities: a small deer or antelope, a bird, and etc.  Our tigresses do the same with their cubs.  By the time they reached 7 months, their body sizes have increased enough that bigger prey would no longer be a huge scare or threat to the cubs, and that they would also be more explorative and daring to approach the game, slowly discovering that it is actually their food or prey.

Initially, the cubs were terrified of a big creature like that of an antelope and would flee promptly. But they are observant and learn fast. Once they see how mom goes about making a hunt for them, they would imitate. A few days ago, when faced with a fair good sized antelope, Vita and Yoya put on their good performance, alternatively charming it by chuffing at it, or attack it head on. Even the shy Zeta joined in for the fun. They cornered the antelope to the fence but the antelope, smart by its own account, faced the cubs head on. Tigers normally attack by stalking and ambushing from behind. So when the prey faced the tiger, the tiger would be at a loss as to what to do, before coming up with a way to effectively tackle the prey.  I had seen that with Hope, JenB and Coco.

Vita sisters wouldn’t give up. She cautiously tried sneaking behind a bush to access the antelope’s flank. Yoya followed in her foot steps and tried from another side. But the antelope was a formidable opponent. I was worried the cubs would be too reckless and get injured in the process, so I was glad to see even Vita and Yoya still have their cautious side to them. In the end though it took mom Madonna to secure the meal for her family.  Once Madonna made the kill, she left her eager daughter Vita, who was imitating her, to drag the prey into the shade of the trees. With her mouth on the carcass’s neck, she toddled left and right..

Vita and Yoya were again leading the hunt today, but Zeta was too timid to come forward. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on due to the distance and the bushes  between us, but I could see the tree branches moving and the occasional orangy stripes flashing back & forth. The cubs were certainly trying their best to get close to their prey from every direction, but the antelope was no easy enemy either. Madonna who would normally finish the prey off to secure the meal certainly had a different plan today. After having taken a look of the situation, she decided to just leave her cubs to the job. Emboldened by mom’s presence in the vicinity however, Zeta joined the hunt.

The three little daughters put in a good show, jumping about and playing with the antelope as well as with one another.  After some time the antelope was finally pulled into the shallow water of the river bed. There the cubs had an advantage, even though they appeared to be a little bit tired. More commotion ensured and I could almost hear the water splashing in the distance. It took quite a long time, before I suddenly saw one of the cubs, I believe to be Vita, had her mouth on the neck of the antelope. And that, was a turning point for her, and worth a celebration! Vita didn’t let the antelope loose until she was certain it was dead. Then another one, most likely Yoya, took up the choking action, wrapping her little mouth around the neck of the antelope.

Research had shown that cats learn the fastest from their mother, second fastest from other cats, third from humans and last by figuring out themselves. We have good case of them learning from each other. I am confident Zeta will also catch up soon.

The three daughters will be nine months old in three days. They are certainly off for a good start!

Li Quan from Laohu Valley Reserve
6th July 2012

Friday, 6 July 2012

Tigers and Porcupines

There is clearly a love and hate relationship between tigers and porcupines. More than once I witnessed the tigers getting totally fascinated by these thorny little creatures, circling around them with both excitement and caution.  Aren’t they just funny things?? Their quills stick out and they make such pleasant noises too. I don't know what the tigers really think but each time when I saw them in the vicinity of a porcupine, I shudder.

Porcupines are deadly creatures. Their quills are such effective armour and weapon killers that penetrate deep into an enemy's body, causing a painful slow death. We once found a dead springbok with a couple of dozen porcupine quills sticking inside her belly and we could not even pull the quills out.

There is one female porcupine living near my house and some nights, I could hear her eating the barks on the tree, where my cat Sisi loved to stay before she disappeared. I am told that this tree may die sooner or later, due to the good work of the porcupine that has persistently, steadfastly and methodically been gnawing at its bark. Fortunately she couldn't reach very high so the tree should be able to stand longer. 

They are certainly cute creatures, or fascinating, as the tigers also found. The young ones are sweet little things. I once saw two of them with their mother crossing the dirty road in front of me. I was so tempted to go and picking them up, but of course that would be inviting trouble.

I had seen both Cathay and Hulooo at a porcupine at different times. They were all very cautious, never venture that close to get hurt. That “huahua” noise the quills make did seem to have a intimidating effect on the tigers so they always stayed at arm’s length.

However, two weeks ago, JenB was found with porcupine quills stuck in his neck and chest. What had happened between him and the porcupine was anyone’s guess. Most of the quills were gone by next day but two remained on him with the outside sections broken off. Joseph, our vet had to be called in to immobilize JenB and take the remaining parts of the quills out. This was the first time in nearly nine years that we had a porcupine related incidence.

But misfortunes never occur alone.

Yesterday I entered into the 40ha camp where Cathay and her daughter Huwaa and sons Alpha and Beta lodged. None of the tigers was in sight. Over the radio Vivienne informed me that she saw Huwaa chasing a porcupine in the riverine area. I didn’t like the sound of it but there was nothing I could do: I couldn’t see the tigers to distract them nor could I go catch the porcupine. After some time I started the engine of my truck to have a look and see. Not far from the river I saw a tiger licking herself. I couldn’t tell who that was so I looked through my binoculars. To my complete shock the big cat was covered in porcupine quills. Nothing scares me than seeing this!

I radioed our team to contact the vet and Vivienne joined me to have a closer look. It turned out to be Cathay. When she stood up I saw she not only had a number of quills on her chest, belly and leg, her face and legs were also covered with blood. Bloody Hell! Did she kill a porcupine? Why on earth would she do that? Taking such an enormousrisk attacking something that she was always cautious about?


We got her into the adjacent mini camp for monitoring to see how deep the quills got into her, and in case she needs to be sedated for us to remove the quills. Fortunately, none of the quills looked too deep inside her body so we decided to monitor her situation while waiting to hear back from the vet. By the end of the day, most of the 7 or 8 quills dropped off from her walking about. Cathay also didn’t seem disturbed by them and the two remaining quills didn’t look life threatening and may also drop off by themselves so we left her on her own for the night, with her children huddled on the other side of the fence.

Cathay had always been a cat with great motherly and protective instinct. She was also a fantastic but cautious hunter. To undertake such a reckless and dangerous act could only be due to her sense of responsibility as a mother. I could only deduce that Cathay must have intervened to kill the porcupine in order to protect her daughter Huwaa who was chasing it, for fear that her precious daughter might get injured. 

But how on earth did she kill the porcupine? That beast is full of lethal thorns which are known to kill those who dare to get too close. Perhaps Cathay flipped the creature over so she could get to its fragile belly? Whatever she did she proved her amazing ability to hunt, and even greater intelligence than one could have ever imagined.

By end of day today, only one quill remained. Hopefully it will drop off by itself so we don’t have to undertake the always worrisome process of sedation in order to remove the quill.

Li Quan from Laohu Valley Reserve
3rd July 2012

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Summary of US Congressional Briefing on June 22nd 2012 by Smithsonian Zoo and Save China's Tigers

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Director Dr. Steve Montfort, and Save China's Tigers' Founding Director Ms. Li Quan, co-presented at the ICCF congressional briefing on June 22nd in Capitol Hill.

Below is a summary of the briefing:

The Role of Reintroduction: Ensuring the Continued Existence of Species in the Wild

The drivers of human-wildlife conflict often place enormous pressures on entire populations of flagship species. These threats can be so severe that, once dangers have been addressed, existing populations need to be supplemented with animals raised in captivity.

Both the Smithsonian National Zoo and Save China’s Tigers are pursuing innovative means of species preservation through reintroduction.

Dr. Monfort of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute outlined the ways in which zoos can leverage their resources to reintroduce species on the brink of extinction into the wild.

The Smithsonian believes this method of species conservation will be increasingly important for the future, as the number of endangered species has increased steadily over the past ten years.

Save China's Tigers is leading one of the most famous current "rewilding" programs - first introducing South China tigers in South Africa, which offers ideal conditions for the tigers to relearn to hunt, and eventually releasing them back into South China.

In 2008, the organization had observed their greatest milestone in a pair of tiger cubs born in South Africa in the wild, after four years of training the tigers' parents to adapt to the environment. 14 tigers are now under Save China's Tiger, 11 of them born in South Africa.

Monday, 21 May 2012

CITES Secretariat praises China for major nationwide wildlife law enforcement operations

CITES Secretariat praises China for major nationwide wildlife law enforcement operations
New national CITES enforcement coordinating body shows positive results

Geneva/Guangzhou, 9 May 2012 – The Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Mr John E. Scanlon, has today awarded a Certificate of Commendation to the National Inter-Agency CITES Enforcement Collaboration Group (NICECG) of China in recognition of two nationwide wildlife law enforcement operations carried out earlier this year. Over 100,000 enforcement officers were mobilised in this effective offensive against wildlife crime.

During the Forest Police Operation, organized by the State Forestry Administration, more than 700 cases of illegal wildlife trade were uncovered; 7,155 illegal wildlife stalls and shops as well as 628 illegal online wildlife shops were shut down; 520 websites believed to offer for sale illegal wildlife were closely monitored; enforcement action was taken against 1,031 wildlife dealers involved in illegal activities; 13 wildlife-related criminal networks were dismantled and approximately 130,000 wild animals; 2,000 wildlife products and 147 wild animal skins were confiscated.

During the Customs Authorities Operation, organized by the General Administration of Customs, 13 suspects were arrested; 1,366.3 kg of ivory, 337,400 kg of red sandal wood; and approximately 30,000 kg of yew timber and 876 horns of saiga antelope were seized.

These two major operations were carried out under the auspices of NICECG, which was established in December 2011 in order to facilitate the collection and exchange of intelligence, enhance capacity building, and coordinate joint enforcement activities. NICECG comprises the State Forestry Administration, the Ministry of Public Security, the General Administration of Customs, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Administration of Industry and Commerce. The CITES Management Authority of China, hosted by the State Forestry Administration, is the coordinating body of NICECG.

The CITES Secretary-General, Mr John E Scanlon, presented the Certficate of Commendation to the Chair of NICECG and Vice Minister of the State Forestry Administration, Ms Yin Hong, at the opening ceremony of a meeting hosted by China on the Development of CITES E-Permitting Systems, which is being held in Guangzhou and attended by participants from 14 CITES member States. Mr Scanlon declared: “The sheer scale, extent of coordination, and level of success of these intelligence-driven operations exemplify the coordinated enforcement effort that is required at the national and sub-national levels to combat wildlife crime successfully. We commend the Chinese Government for this excellent initiative, which echoes the
coordinated enforcement approach that we are promoting through the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).”

At the acceptance of the Certificate of Commendation, Ms Yin Hong, stated: “The Government of China attaches great importance to the protection of the ecological system, and has always given high priority to the protection of biological diversity and wildlife law enforcement. China is committed to work with the international community to enhance the implementation and enforcement of CITES.”

Although China has been conducting nationwide wildlife enforcement actions for many years, the new operations coordinated by NICECG, have clearly given new impetus to CITES implementation. NICECG is also serving as a model at the provincial level, with five CITES enforcement inter-agency groups being set up.

Dr Meng Xianlin, Executive Director-General of the CITES Management Authority of China, said: “We see the Certificate of Commendation from the CITES Secretary-General as a very positive recognition of the law enforcement efforts made by China in the implementation of CITES, one for which we are extremely grateful. This is an invaluable encouragement to all the wildlife law enforcement officers across China. NICECG will spare no efforts to bring its power into full play in order to gather concerted efforts of all relevant authorities in combating illegal activities in wildlife and to curb illegal wildlife trade effectively. ”

CITES implementation has also recently been brought to the fore at the highest political level. In the joint statement issued after the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue held from 3 to 4 May in Beijing, article 47 states that: “We decide to jointly support the wildlife law enforcement efforts and to combat the smuggling of endangered and protected species. China and the United States will attend the Special Investigation Group Meeting held from 20 to 21 June 2012 in Nanning, China, led by ASEAN-WEN. At the meeting, wildlife investigators and forensic experts will identify and recommend improved enforcement and inspection efforts.”

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Cathay a Role Model & Huwaa a Born Hunter

April  5, 2012 On the Trail of Prey

Cathay was sighted on the prowl in the middle section of the Tigers Roars camp this morning.  Guess it was time to hunt as the last kills of three antelopes were a few days ago. The cubs were nowhere to be seen. I drove to the riverine area and waited. After some time roars came closer and closer and it turned out to be Cathay calling her cubs. I followed her movement up the hill where she lied down, where all her three children were frolcking in that same area, all the time within my eye view but well camouflaged in the golden grass! But how did Cathay know they were there?!

Soon she got up and walked off and one by one her cubs followed, chasing and jumping on top of one another along the way.  Huwaa and Beta disappeared into the trees inside the riverine area  following mom’s trail but Alpha had another plan and went in a different direction. Well, I thought all of them found their places to rest for the day as it was 8.30am, even though it was not a very hot day.
I was calling it a morning but decided to drive the long way out. I was  however taken by surprise when I saw Cathay with Huwaa and Beta in the middle section of the camp along the fence. It dawned on me that Cathay had gone back to gather her kids on a hunt! Slowly Mom and cubs moved forward in the direction of the blesbuck. It was evident the children were at the early stages of their hunting training, as Huwaa made an attempt at the antelope too soon, scaring them away. In between the wait, the cubs either played with one another, or molested their mom to kill time. Only seven blesbuck remained and it wouldn’t be so easy to hunt, especially with the cubs being more a hindrance than help. Patience is a learned skill even for the most lethal of all hunters -the big cats.

At one stage, the blesbuck ended up behind the three tigers, though a long distance away. Cathay turned around and started walking back with patience and resilience. Just when I was thinking what a great pity that Alpha chose to be lazy, when I suddenly saw him trailing behind the blesbuck in the opposite side of the camp! I apologized to him for having misjudged him.  The Blesbuck is however a formidable enemy and a tiger could never catch them by outrunning them.  Patience, judgement and strategy are however in a good hunter’s favour and Cathay has plenty of that, plus years of experience.

Eventually the blesbuck ran across the camp into the riverine area with dense vegetation and trees. The tigers started moving back.  I guess Cathay’s strategy is to push the prey into the tree-lined riverine area where it would be easier to hunt.  I however had to leave to attend a conference call.

April 6 2012 Huwaa’s First Witnessed Blesbuck Hunt
Early this morning, Cathay was tracking the blesbuck again, sniffing the grass, & teaching her cubs by example. The cubs followed suit. Huwaa was marching forward much ahead of her family, moving quickly among the grass but was soon joined by the rest of the family. The tigers zig-zagged, playing along the way, heading with great intent towards the blesbok in the far distance.  Cathay, to show her cubs that patience pays, would stop and lie down from time to time and watch, while Alpha and Beta did not yet grasp the meaning of that, and constantly pestering Cathay. Huwaa was charging forward leaving everyone behind. The blesbuck got more and more skittish and eventually they ran across the camp to the opposite side of the camp towards the riverine area. Cathay turned around to follow and disappeared into the big donga.

Suddenly we glimpsed a blesbuck that has fallen behind the herd, likely having tripped on a stone.  Before we knew what happened, Huwaa appeared out of nowhere like a flash of light and landed on top of the unlucky beast! What a spectacular hunt! I had underestimated Huwaa,  the sweet cat full of nervous energy.  I quickly drove up to her kill site, finding her mouth tightly wrapped around the blesbuck neck like a real hunter, not letting go.  Beta had also arrived but was giving negative help by dragging and biting the leg of the blesbuck. The blesbuck was still struggling but Huwaa held on. In about 5 minutes, the prey finally stopped moving and Huwaa kept holding on for a little more, making sure the prey was dead.

How proud I am of her! This is our first witnessed hunt of blesbok by Huwaa and she has already proven her skills.  Thinking back how sickly she was while being hand-reared at zoo, and that the warnings by the zoo vet  that she might not live long due to her heart echo and that we ought to treat her with ultimate care, I feel, yet once again, that we have proven a natural environment for the tigers does wonders. A wild creature belongs to the beautiful nature, no matter where it is. They certainly don’t belong to cages.

Mom Cathay, despite she must have been hungry, didn’t interfere through the entire process. She let Huwaa drag the carcass towards the shade of a bush, but Huwaa’s effort was stunted by her brothers who tried to drag it to another part of the world. Cathay intervened, picking up the carcass and dragging it next to a bush,  and leaving it there for her cubs while herself went a distance away to watch. What a wonderful mother she is!  Huwaa, like all tigers that have just made kills, needed a rest and let her brothers tackling the hard skin of the carcass in turn. They eventually succeeded tearing a hole through the butt allowing them to feed. Mom came over another time to drag the carcass closer to the next & bigger bush. I can see her intention-as the sun was shining harder and the cloud dissipated, she wanted to get her family and their food to better shade. All this time, she didn’t put in a single bite into the carcass. After a while, she got up, and started off probably for another hunt.

Well we certainly had a “Good Friday” ourselves!

April 7 2012 Harvest

If yesterday was a good Friday, today was certainly a better Saturday for both tigers and humans at Laohu Valley. To start with, we were able to get a glimpse of Madonna’s beautiful little daughters  by the stony riverbed, who are still indistinguishable from one another. While we were  waiting for Madonna’s cubs to appear from the trees, Madonna came along the river line, calling her cubs. After a few minutes, her three daughters indeed emerged out of the dense vegetation, happily running towards mom. However, instead of resting where we could see them, Madonna leaped into the thicket with her cubs following closely behind.
I was soon able to find out why.  Madonna’s family was in fact heading towards the 40 ha camp where Cathay’s family reside. Just when Madonna’s cubs had appeared from the trees to answer her calls, our Dutch student Kimberly’s voice had also came through on the radio-Cathay had just made a kill!

A while later, Sanet and I drove up the hill to observe Cathay’s family and saw Cathay leisurely walking about. While we were just wondering where she hid her catch Sanet spotted another tiger dragging a carcass into the trees on the other side of the little river.  We reckon this could not possibly be the blesbuck Cathay had just killed as it would be silly of Cathay to drag her kill from up the hill all the way across the river to the other side of the bank  & away from the trees. This must be another kill, particular since the antelope seemed pretty agitated and running around in the distance.  On closer inspection through the binoculars, it turned out the dragger was Huwaa. So this little girl must have made yet another kill!!

We wondered if any other blesbuck had lost its life and started counting what was left. But with the blesbuck running it was hard.  Repeated attempt to count yielded however the same number of 16, while an hour ago Sanet counted 21. Could this be true that Cathay’s family caught five antelope in a matter of one hour? It is hard to believe but this happened before when Hulooo brothers went on a rampage, catching 9 blesbok in a row.  I drove around the camp to get a better count and in the end had to resign to the fact, that a total worth of US$1000 of antelope were taken by Cathay’s family this morning. I am sure Huwaa contributed a couple and I also hope the boys, Alpha and Beta, learned a trick or two.

So Madonna must have heard the commotions in the distance and gathered her cubs to the battle ground to share some excitement.

April 8, 2012

Another 3 blesbuck missing by the end of the day….

Friday, 6 April 2012


Sisi, in the morning of Feb 6, before I let you out of the house into the vastness of Laohu Valley Reserve while I was leaving , I picked you up and said to your pretty little face: “Don’t you dare to ever leave me. Please wait for me to come back again in a couple of months”.

So where have you gone now?? It’s over four weeks since you disappeared without a trace. You have never ever left me since you and I become friends in 2006. Each time I was back at Laohu Valley, I was looking forward to finding you inside my bedroom already waiting and without fail. And I was each time greeted by your excited sweet little voice. You showered me with affection with your pretty little head rubbing my cheeks. You showered me with love by watching me quietly in the middle of the night. You kept me such good company during the day if there were no other people around. You waited for me patiently on the big tree if I had guests in the house, as if guarding me.

Many a solitary nights passed with you besides me purring contently. You kept that wild side of you, the genes you inherited from perhaps a blackfooted cat father, to yourself, but it betrays you none the less-the shyness that kept you away from other humans. But you were always there for me. You would emerge out of anywhere whenever I called out: “Sisi….Sisi…”, and you have always run to me excitedly, out of trees, bushes or from the top of my roof.

So where have you gone?? I worried about you each time I left. I investigated how to get you to London without putting you into quarantine but knew you wouldn’t be happy in an apartment in a big city with no trees to climb, no bush to hide, no mice to catch, and no shining stars to behold. Therefore I wanted to wait till both you and I are old, so none of us could travel any more.

So why have you gone? I was so proud of you, your wild genes  and boasted often to friends and visitors about my friendship and bond with you-my “million dollar wild cat”. Even though the worry that I may one day return to Laohu Valley without finding you around always lurks around the corner, I never ever expected this to happen, and so soon too.

Did I put a curse on you when I spelled it out loud to your little face forbidding you to ever leave me? Perhaps I should not have said that to you?  Perhaps you are just playing hide & seek with me? I cant think of any reason why you are gone: You are too quick to be taken by a jackal, too smart to have a fight with a caracal, too athletic to fall from a tree, too cautious to touch a porcupine. Or perhaps you are poisoned by a Cape cobra? Or perhaps you were poisoned by neighbouring farmers’ jackal control traps? However, you never wandered that far away…

Or perhaps you simply decided to have an adventure somewhere!
But wherever you are, you should know I am always waiting for you, to return to me one day.

Li Quan from Laohu Valley on April 5h 2012

Friday, 23 March 2012

Asian Women of Achievement Awards Nomination

2012 Asian Women of Achievement Awards has honoured Li Quan by being selected on a shortlist of Asian Female Heroines

Leading  entrepreneurs, Mayoral hopefuls, public servants, sporting champions and media personalities – are on the shortlist announced for the 2012 Asian Women of Achievement Awards, in association with The Royal Bank of Scotland.  

The crowning of Britain’s most inspirational Asian women came closer today with the announcement of this year’s Asian Women of Achievement Awards shortlist and Save China’s Tigers founder Li Quan was delighted to hear she was shortlisted for the award for her dedicated work to save the South China tiger from extinction.

Founded and chaired by author and entrepreneur Pinky Lilani OBE, the Asian Women of Achievement Awards champion the contribution made by Asian women across British business, sports, public, cultural, community and political life.

For the first time, the awards are supported by The Royal Bank of Scotland, and will also include a new “Asian Women of Achievement Community Award” and “Asian Woman of Achievement in Sport” to celebrate the impending London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Over their 13-year history, the Awards have recognised, and provided a platform for Asian female pioneers – such as actress Nina Wadia; Kamal Basran, founder of the UK’s leading ethnic food supplier, The Authentic Food Company; civil rights activist Shami Chakrabarti; and the first Asian woman to lead a FTSE 250 business, Ruby McGregor-Smith.

Along with Li Quan, this year’s 55-strong shortlist includes: London Mayoral Candidate Siobhan Benita; ground-breaking Afghanistan-born BBC journalist Zarghuna Kargar; amateur boxer and coach Saira Tabasum; operational governor of Her Majesty's Prison Service Reena Bagga; director of Help Yourself Associates Jillian Haslam; and inspirational entrepreneur Kala Patel amongst others.

The judging panel, chaired by Sir Nicholas Young, chief executive of British Red Cross, will meet over the coming weeks to decide winners for each of the 11 categories, with the winners announced at a gala ceremony on 16 May 2012 at the London Hilton Park Lane.

Last year’s ceremony was attended by a number of high profile guests including Home Secretary Theresa May, HRH Princess Badiya bint El Hassan, Miriam Gonzalez-Durantez, James Caan, BBC news presenter Riz Lateef  and The Rt Hon Tessa Jowell.

Pinky Lilani said: “The shortlisting judges were truly amazed by the quality of the individuals entering the awards this year – each with an inspiring story of determination, courage and resilience. These awards not only enable us to celebrate the successes and achievements of Britain’s most exceptional Asian women, but they also give us the opportunity to recognise the next generation waiting in the wings.

“The Asian Women of Achievement Awards provide the benchmark for aspiring female Asians in the UK and give them a platform to showcase their unbelievable achievements which must be applauded.”

Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive Corporate Banking Division, RBS, said: “RBS is delighted to support the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, one of the most important programmes recognising Britain's fantastic diversity of talent. It is great news for Britain that Asian women now occupy some of the most influential positions in finance, business and public life. The Asian Women of Achievement Awards are hosted by Caspian Media's Real Business, in association with The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Li Quan said, “it was a great honour to be shortlisted for this prestigious award, especially when one considerers the calibre of my fellow candidates”.  

Friday, 3 February 2012


Madonna and Cubs

Jan 28, 2011

Everything was going according to plan. We managed to get Madonna into another camp leaving her 3 babies alone so we can walk into the camp, catch them and microchip them. Joseph was called immediately and it would take him 2.5 hours to drive from Kimberly, but unfortunately he had to take care of an emergency veterinary operation for a horse somewhere first.

I informed team my rough idea:  we were to station ourselves at different locations of the camp, thus preventing the cubs from getting close so they could potentially crawl under/through/over the fence, all of which had been part of our Laohu experience!  And we were to catch the cubs with capture net and fishing net, a effective and harmless technique learned from Chinese zoos. In the end we agreed on a plan, that just before the vet arrives we would proceeding with the operation and two of the three cubs would be put into each of the two travel boxes while a third will receive microchip. Microchipping itself doesn’t last long-it’s the preparation that takes time. But having had plenty of experiences and learning from past mistakes I think our plan covered all grounds. However more often than not, dealing with nature does not go according to plan. 
Xa in the net

I was so looking forward to it. Not that I care so much about the microchipping which is a government requirement, but we could use this opportunity to sex the cubs. Last week, I was telling our tiger supervisor Vivienne that for some reason all the three cubs I observed through my cameras and binos were females. Was I imposing my wish on what I saw? Vivienne said the next day that she definitely saw a male. Well, I said, in that case hopefully we had at least two girls. We badly need more female tigers to address the imbalance between males and females in our second generation South China Tigers born in SA.

One hour, two hours passed. Still no news from Joseph. I was worried about the cubs as today was quite a sunny day. We moved the little concrete water tray next to the big tree which they preferred. Madonna showed up from the deep thicket of 7 Ha camp and watched the commotion, attentively. As soon as they saw mom the cubs all came out to the fence trying to get to mom. At one point one of the cub was zapped by the electrified tripwire which immediately got Madonna to return to the fence, just when she was about to head back into the cool thicket.

It was not until 5pm before we heard from Joseph, but he was only one hour away now from us.

We sprang into action. We used the big capture net to form a barrier so if the cubs would run they would get caught into it. Then we approached the cubs who were now all cowered into the corner of the camp. Madonna, watching from the other side of the fence, started charging the fence at us but got shocked by the electricity which made her even angrier. I kept telling her we were not stealing her babies and they would be fine but all the same, she gave us menacing growls and charges.


It turned out to be fairly easy to scoop up the first and second cub with the fishing net, however they tried to threaten us with their little snarls. They were still quite small though very solid and strong. They were put into two cages. The last one was a bit of challenge as it escaped the fishing scoop and ran to the capture net, where it got caught.  Hein scooped it up and Joseph was, as usual, very quick in his actions and micro-chipped the cub. Time to sex the cub! A girl! She was given a temp name Xa.

The second microchipping also went very smoothly as the cubs seemed to freeze once they were caught. We took head shots from different sides and body shots in order to identify them, as they looked remarkably similar. I lifted her leg to sex her, yet another female!! She was nick-named Yoya and like the first one she was immediately put back into her Ravine camp and she also ran straight into the dense vegetations of the stream.

The third one proved to be more difficult to handle. First we had trouble getting the cub out of the cage. Then the cub was fighting us. We managed to get the chip in and photos taken in the end, not without a bit of casualties. At one point my finger was bitten but no harm done. However, Thinus (our assistant reserve manager) got a bit on his arm, which still looked bloody after the operation completed.

Well what is the chance that ALL 3 cubs in our FIRST ever TRIPLET litter are ALL girls?? When I gently lifted the cub’s little but strong leg, I couldn't contain my excitement! INDEED, ALL 3 of Madonna’s cubs are baby girls!!!!  

WE WON A LOTTERY! AND WE ARE ROCKING!!  We named her Zeta for now.

Feb 2st  2012

Yoya being examined
After Microchipping, we left all the gates connecting three camps open, hoping Madonna would reunite with her 3 cubs overnight. However, the next morning on Jan 29th she was found inside the 2 Ha Ravine camp with two cubs, pacing with another cub on the other side of the fence inside 7 Ha Catkins camp.  For the whole family to get back together, either the lone cub had to come through to the mini-management camp to the Ravine, or Madonna had to come to Catkins to fetch her. During afternoon monitoring this had not yet happened. We managed to coax Madonna into Catkins, hoping the lone cub would follow her back into Mini-camp, then back to Ravine. But the cub refused to cross the threshold. It had to be the same cub that refused to cross the gate in reverse the other day! We left them for the night but by this morning, the status quo remained the same. I had to find ways to get them all back together so Madonna doesn’t have to be caught spending time with two households. The best method again, is the fishing scoop net.

But easily said than done! The cub was much smarter than us! And certainly a lot faster than us! We spent the day yesterday figuring out way to catch her, using Madonna as lure, but needless to say we failed. Her little told her not to trust us and her little legs can certainly run. In the darkness we abandoned our effort to reunite the family and let Madonna decide if she should spend time in Catkins or in Ravines and with which cubs, leaving the two gates between the three camps open. It was not without pity that I retired for the evening, thinking how much of a challenge it was for a tiger mother. Despite having to go back and  forth between the three camps, at no time did she express any sign of anger or impatience to her screaming and demanding cubs, and always showered them with tenderness and patience, no matter how helpless she felt…

The next morning, one more cub moved into Catkins and the cry of the lone cub in Ravine camp was loud and clear. Despite that the eland was not completely finished though Madonna’s family did an impressive job eating most part of it, we decided to give Madonna some fresh carcass. Thinus shot two blesbok and tied them together in the mini-management camp to prevent her from dragging it away, and Vivienne blew the whistle. This time however, Madonna refused to come out to the sound of the whistle or food. She must be getting back to us for using a springbok as bait last night but not giving her the full deal!
Zeta in the net

Another night and no one appeared, not even Madonna. At this point I began to worry seriously that should the cubs be split too long, Madonna could lose patience and stop caring one of them. I doubt tiger mothers do that but still I feared. We had no idea where Madonna was or any of the cubs was. I decided that we should be on whole day monitoring so our staff would do the observation in turn. But by 4pm, not even a shadow of anyone in sight. I was praying that this would be a sure sign that Madonna and her cubs had all gotten together. By 5pm however, only Madonna and one cub was sighted but they soon also disappeared, which made me worry seriously once more.

A tiger-loving journalist from Hong Kong was visiting us to report on our project yesterday. Just when I was prepared to tell him that he was out of luck with Madonna’s cubs and that my team ought to prepare for a day search the next day, when all three cubs were spotted grouping together on Catkins side of the fence line with Ravine Camp.  I was elated..

Zeta taking temperature
I drove into Catkins camp with Ivan the journalist, and we were soon reward with the most incredible sighting: Madonna strolling with three tiny cubs trailing behind her, towards us. She seemed a bit startled when she saw my vehicle, but calmly went into tall grass and lied down just a few meters from us. The cubs, with the aid of the onset of dusk, appeared to be bolder than usual, moving even closer to our vehicle. They soon joined mom demanding milk from her. The they played, chasing one another in the grass and amongst trees. As the light dimmed further, the cubs seemed even more bullish, with one of them approached our vehicle to within 5 meters. She was then distracted by the big stone and started investigating it: looking from one side to another and climbing on top etc. This undaunted little cub turned out to be Xa.

At sunset of today’s sunless day, I again saw Madonna’s family of four. While mom was feeding in adjacent camps, the cubs put on the most exciting show in nature’s stage: chasing and tumbling on top of one another, wrestling and hugging etc. When mom finished eating, they jumped on top of mom demanding to be fed, to which Madonna obeyed obediently and with such love and gentleness. She licked and hugged her cubs tenderly and watch them frolicking with such pride and content..

-From Li Quan at Laohu Valley Reserve, South Africa

Monday, 30 January 2012


Madonna & 327’s three cubs are now three months old. They were rarely seen for the past three months, under the remarkable care of Madonna in complete natural environment, isolated from even other tigers, never mind humans. However, now that they are mobile, we have to habituate them to humans a bit for a number of reasons. If they are too wild, we will have trouble handling them in times of veterinary need, such as illness. 

Princess was a good example. The governments require that these precious animals be microchipped and registered, but we failed to catch her for microchipping when she was two months old. When she was one year old, we gave another try, but this time it required sedatives, which tigers and cheetahs react notoriously badly.  However, we never managed to catch her, as she flew through the electrified gate between her camp and an adjacent one, after seeing what was done to her brother King Henry.
So wherever we can, we tried to avoid immobilizing the tigers to reduce the risks to them. 3-months old cubs are getting pretty strong to handle but in a month it would be impossible to handle without sedatives, particularly since they have such brute force. So we began the process of their habituation from a couple of weeks ago.

To begin with, a big wilderbeest carcass was laid out for Madonna and her family in the mini camp next to their 2ha riverine camp. Too big to drag it back into the dense riverine area for her family to consume, she resigned at calling her cubs out from the trees to supper eventually. The cubs revealed their beautiful and adorable little faces finally to us. They certainly required time to get used to us, as they kept running for cover into the bushes or behind the big tree. None the less, sometimes they would calm down and head back to where mom would be lying once they see the humans are not being too erratic.

A few days later, another young eland bull of about 300 kg was provided to Madonna. Having eland for breakfast for the first time in her life, she was initially unsure what to do, dragging one leg or another in her attempt to drag this huge carcass to the riverine area for her large family. But the eland is nearly three times her weight and refused to move an inch. She had to settle for this mini-camp again and gathered her kids from the trees and led them to breakfast.  By the end of the day, a significant dent had been made from the rear of the eland carcass. It was comical to see one cub’s head was nearly completely buried within the dent.
The cubs certainly regarded us humans as threats, despite mom Madonna’s encouragement to stay in sight for us. Every time we even made some movements, the cubs would dash for the bushes close or far. Yesterday morning I saw all three of them rushing to the corner of the little camp, at the junction with 7ha camp where TigerWoods is currently residing. TigerWoods’ was envious of the big eland next door and had spent the entire day crouching close by, never taking his eyes off the carcass.

When we became still, two of the cubs came out of their hiding and went over to mom again. After half an hour there seemed to be no sight of the 3rd cub, as we looked into every bush through binoculars. I was just wondering how the 3rd cub could disappear when Madonna all of sudden stood up and started walking to the closed gate that leads to the 7Ha camp. Seeing that it was closed she went back to her shade under the tree but repeated this 3 or 4 times. Suddenly I realized the increasingly loud chirping sound coming from TigerWoods’ camp was not a bird, but a tiger cub! I looked in that direction and saw the little head of the 3rd cub behind the long grass.  That explained his magical disappearance but how on earth did it manage to get through to the other side of the fence???

Although TW didn’t seem to be bothered at all either by the cry of this little visitor or its intrusion, we quickly managed to guide him into the next adjacent camp-the quarantine camp. Madonna went inside the 7ha asa the gate was opened for her and she soon was reunited with her treasured baby, showering each other with head rubs and tender whines. Having been absent from this camp for several years, she clearly enjoyed its dense trees, long grasses and fresh smells, sniffing and jumping between tree trunks with the little cub trailing behind. 
I searched for potential holes in the fence and realized that the cub had crawled through from under the iron mesh, where it needed stones to hold it down onto the ground. We fixed it there and then.

Seeing mom vanishing out of sight for a while now, the remaining two cubs started calling. We left them to sort out their plan as to where to spend the day, certain that they would return to their food in the mini-camp.
Upon arriving in the tiger rewilding center in the afternoon, I could hear the loud cry of a cub from even far away. I walked around the camp to investigate, not wanting to scare them with the sound of the vehicle. What I saw was hilarious. Madonna and two cubs were crouched on the 7Ha side of the open gate, where the 3rd cub was screaming at its heart content on the other side of the open gate.  After a while Madonna got up and walking through the gate to the 3rd cub, rubbing heads and chuffing at him, intending to guide the cub into the natural 7Ha camp. She looked behind her once she crossed back into 7Ha only to see her 3rd cub refusing to cross the threshold, for one reason or another. I believe this was the cub that crawled through the fence as the cub kept running over to that spot and looking under it.

The other two cubs were frolicking the grass and got further and further away which prompted Madonna to follow them. Seeing mom going nearly out of sight the 3rd cub started his hysteric cry again, sounding so much like the cry of a human baby.

Poor Madonna was stopped in her tracks and turned back to her 3rd cub, again trying to coax him into following her into the 7Ha camp, but to no avail. In the end, she called her two other cubs back and lied down again in the same spot on the side of 7Ha facing the cub on the other side of the gate. The four just watched one another. Again, I left them to sort out their arrangement for the night, confident they would make a final decision.

Clearly we had our job marked out for us for next weeks!

Jan 27 2012

Monday, 9 January 2012

Cat God at Valley of the Queens

Sunset Philae Temple

Nubian kid

Little Crocodile
It was an amazing trip to Luxor/Aswan. All that incredible and mysterious temples, tombs and giant statues..

But the one thing that ate my heart was a little cat at the Valley of the Queens.

He looked like my South African wild cat Sisi, and was strolling across the valley floor, apparently trailing a tomb guard, when I stopped him to stroke him. He rubbed himself against my leg, very content. When I had to leave, I called out to him, "Come, show me around". He looked at me, then looked back at his "master" who was looking at him with a silent command, uncertain who to follow. The cat looked visibly  tortured.."Should I follow this mad Chinese woman who showered me with attention? Or should I follow my servant who keeps me company all the time?" After some hard soul searching, In the end he choose to follow his "master".

Sadly I left my camera in the car. The cat's tortured look haunted me for the rest of the day and the thought of having no photo of him tortured me so much that I decided to go back to Valley of the Queens next morning to get a photo, before my flight out of Egypt.

The cat was of course not there. The tomb guards and police were puzzled about my visit but when they understood the purpose of my visit, they tried to search for the cat for me. The name of the  guard that the cat was following was Ibrahim. He told me in broken English that the cat was there in the morning and may have gone up the hills to eat something or gone sleeping somewhere. I looked up-vultures were hovering around near the top of those hills..

"Yesterday was cat but no camera. Today was camera but no cat". Ibrahim summarized my predicament with the feline race.
Cat Server Ibrahim Valley of Queens 
 I had to catch my plight out of Egypt so I appealed to Ibrahim to take a photo of the cat with his phone camera and emailed it to me. He must have taken sympathy for me and readily agreed. I felt imposing on him and offered him a small baksheesh, which is expected and asked for by almost everyone that a foreign tourist encounters. But to my complete surprise, he tried to decline it and I could even detect some embarrassment on his face.

Maybe, the cat chose Ibrahim for a reason..

P.S. Oberoi Towel Art: