Tigers get a chance in South Africa's cheetah country

No tigers in Africa? That may be what they teach in school, but it is no longer quite true, thanks to an ambitious project.

No tigers in Africa? That may be what they teach in school, but it is no longer quite true, thanks to an ambitious Britain-based project called Save China's Tigers.

Beijing native Li Quan, founder of the privately
funded project, brought two tiger cubs - Hope, a male, and Cathay, a female - from Shanghai's zoo to a 33 000-hectare wildlife reserve in South Africa's Free State Province in 2003.

The plan was that they would impart
the survival skills they learnt there to their young, which would then be released into Chinese wildlife sanctuaries yet to be set up. A second pair, named Tiger Woods and Madonna, came the following year.

"There are only about 30 Chinese tigers left in the wild," Li said. Another 60 or so live in captivity. By breeding tigers, a symbol of China, Li hopes to help save the country's last big cats from extinction.

She aimed to return to China with tiger offspring in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. But Hope died in August, just before reaching the age of sexual maturity.

Li remains optimistic despite the setback.
"We firmly believe we can still meet our goal even after Hope's death," she said. Now all she can do is wait. Tiger Woods, now 18 months old, is still about a year and a half away from possible fatherhood. "We have to be patient because we don't have other opportunities for breeding," Li said.

She intends to bring more young Chinese tigers
to South Africa, but plans remain rather vague. It is thought a grown tiger would probably not survive the trip.

The well-travelled Li got the idea for her "re-wilding programme" on a visit to South Africa where the skill of conservationists impressed her. She relies on the co-operation of both the Chinese and South African governments.

Li dismissed critics who said the tigers' African surroundings were not their natural habitat. "Talks are still being held in China on the location of the first wildlife sanctuary for the tigers that are to be released.

"A decision won't be made until next month, but we've got to do something for the tigers right now," she said. "The tigers don't care where."

(Source: The Star, 17 Nov 2005)

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