Rare Chinese tiger dies in SA reserve

A rare Chinese tiger born in a zoo in China and sent to South Africa to be trained for a life in the wild has died, threatening a wildlife protection programme, an animal rights group said on Tuesday.

Hope, a four-year-old male, died of pneumonia and heart failure on Saturday at the Laohu Valley Reserve in South Africa, said Lu Jun, Beijing representative for the tiger-rehabilitation programme run by Save China’s Tigers.

The Chinese tiger, or Panthera tigris amoyensis, hasn’t been found in the wild in 20 years and only about 70 survive in captivity.

Hope and his female mate, Cathay, were sent from China to the South African reserve in September 2003 and were expected to reach sexual maturity next year, Lu said.

Hope’s “unexpected death further highlights the vulnerable state the Chinese tiger is in and the urgent need to take actions to resurrect them”, Save China’s Tigers said in a statement.

The two animals, both born in captivity, were being trained to hunt and survive in the wild at the 62ha reserve, it said. Another two Chinese tigers, Tiger Woods and Madonna, were sent last year. The project planned to eventually move the animals back to newly created reserves in China.

After months of initial confusion, the tigers were this year able to hunt blesbok, or antelope, that were released into their enclosure, the group said.

“The images of him lying and rolling happily in front of us after a most challenging encounter with and successful hunt of an antelope will stay in my thoughts forever,” project manager Li Quan said in the statement.

Both animals were treated for a fungal skin infection last week.

Cathay recovered but Hope’s condition deteriorated quickly.
An autopsy showed that his heart was smaller than expected for a fully grown tiger, the group said.

“This could be due to him being born in captivity and not having had the necessary exercise as a cub,” veterinarian Dr Gavin Rous was quoted as saying.

There were an estimated 4 000 tigers in China before a government campaign in the 1950s wiped nearly all of them out, Lu said. The tigers then were considered pests because they attacked farmers and villagers.

Their original habitat in southern China has also since been badly damaged by the country’s rapid economic development, Lu said.—Sapa-AP

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