Tigers in Africa

March 19,2010 by

Tigers in Africa seems a fanciful thought…but they are there! Though they do not roam completely free in the wilderness, the South China Tiger can be found in carefully managed, large wildland areas in South Africa, the subject of an ambitious effort to rescue it from extinction. The 33,000ha (82,000 acre) LaohuValley Reserve is the centerpiece of Save China’s Tigers experimental bid to breed the South China Tiger and eventually return it to its natural habitat.

This effort has generated significant controversy, so I went there in January to better understand what it is doing and to determine its role in the broad spectrum of conservation work occurring around the globe. I found a valid initiative, doing good work, and fighting two battles simultaneously: one to save a tiger (arguably a sub-species), and (as if that were not enough) another to defend itself against the (sometimes) seemingly endless internal sniping of the nature conservation world. Who needs enemies when fellow conservationists often serve that function?!

I encourage you to go to the SCT website to see details. They’re making progress. I’ll just briefly give my response to some of the “sniping” I’ve heard from other groups and conservationists.

Laohu Valley_0087

1. Tigers don’t belong in Africa. Why start a breeding facility there, almost halfway around the world from their home range?

The historically-proven and commonsense strategy to save a very small remnant population is to create geographically-separated gene pools, or small groups of the survivors, in order to protect them from potential threats such as disease, human pressure, etc. If they breed successfully, and there are adequate wild reserves in their homeland, hopefully they can be returned.

This is exactly the model established by Ian Player, WILD’s founder, when he saved the white rhino from extinction by exporting it to Europe and the US. It recovered from being virtually the most endangered rhinoceros species in the 1960’s to today being the most viable.

2. Why spend all that money on a species that is almost finished?

It’s better to direct the funds to other programs trying to protect the tiger species still in the wild. Conservationists are always squabbling over the “conservation funding pie” — and tigers are the most political and financially-oriented of all such squabbles. Save China’s Tigers have done something admirable and unusual—they created a new financial vehicle to raise the vast majority of the $20 million they have spent thus far. They increased the conservation funding pie, not decreased or redirected it.

Laohu Valley_0004

3. SCT’s founder and main spokesperson, Li Quan, is not a scientist or “professional conservationist,” and she needs to leave this work to the big, established groups.

This is the silliest of all the criticisms I’ve heard. Firstly, the “big established groups” are trying to do their best, but the tiger populations continue to crash. More help is needed. Second, Li Quan is a dedicated volunteer and entrepreneur, committing her spirit, income, and energy to save a species (and, if I am any judge of character, she will likely do even more in the years to come). That’s what we need — more personal responsibility, commitment, thinking outside the box, and action. Third, SCT is more than Li Quan, obviously. They are well-advised scientifically and on conservation management.

This silly criticism reminds me of what many PhD scientists said amongst themselves 25 years ago when Laurie Marker (at that time a self-trained cheetah keeper in a drive-through safari park in southern Oregon) decided she would keep the main cheetah breeding book (“the stud book”). Today Dr. Marker runs the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the most successful field project in the world to save a species, and is a formidable conservation pioneer who continues to think outside the box and get results.

4. Why work with the Chinese government?

Surely the Chinese government is not perfect on conservation—but please name a government that is? Nevertheless, the Chinese are trying, and have even garnered good recent reviews from Traffic on their call for better protection of the wild tiger and its habitat, and the decision by World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS) to ban use of tiger bones and all wildlife parts. SCT has forged an agreement from the Chinese government to create several new wilderness reserves for the tiger, initially two totaling 30,000 ha (75,000 acres), and eventually with more areas set aside as part of a large, long-term strategy. This of course combines with the 33,000 ha (82,000 acres) they bought and manage privately in South Africa. Saving wild habitat is REAL conservation.

Laohu Valley_0059

The work of SCT is emblematic of a larger issue. The condition of our wild world is far less than good. The reality is that human impacts and actions over many decades now force us sometimes into the choice between taking no action for wild nature (in this case the South China Tiger), or taking an experimental, less-than-perfect choice.

My colleague, brother, and Bengal tiger advocate Bittu Sahgal, of Sanctuary Asia, put it very succinctly to me the other day: “China needs to ensure that an inviolate forest of at least 500 sq km is set aside for the return of these near-extinct tigers. Re-wilding tigers is at best difficult, and maybe not possible. We actually don’t know. These days, we are forced by the impact of human society into a position where we have no choice but to proceed. No action is not a choice.”

priyanka commented:

July 4th, 2010 at 6:31 am

I am very interested in working with tigers and would like to dedicate my life to hands on work and relocation. For the past 7 years, i have been looking after ferals and even tamed some of them. I have been very drawn to the cat family.

looking forward to hearing from you.

Avijit (avi) commented:

July 8th, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Hi Ian,

I am Avijit (avi). I am a naturalist and wildlife tour leader. I have spent a good deal of my life in Central Indian tiger forests. Your project is ambitious and interesting. While increasing threats loom large on the future of bengal tigers in India – it will be interesting to find out how programs like yours fare. Wish you luck and success.



leonapp commented:

July 3rd, 2011 at 9:17 am

I don’t think it’s a great idea to be introducing tigers into south africa. I mean creatures like hartabeest, eland and impala don’t even know what the heck a south china tiger is. They won’t even know how to respond to the predator, and the large predators might even be ruining the biodiversity.

mohamad faiz commented:

July 16th, 2011 at 1:53 am

i’m working on a project in jeli kelantan (malaysia). many farmers are having problems with tigers hunting their livestock in the middle of the night.the thing is we have added paddocks to keep the tigers away from the livestock. maybe if you have problems with the tigers, tell the farmers to put paddocks also. good luck for tigers adapting to survival in africa. bye bye.

jason chua commented:

July 31st, 2011 at 1:07 am

my hometown is in singapore where tigers had already been extinct in the 1930s.one they,i wish to get them back.

Cindy plummer commented:

April 25th, 2012 at 11:27 am

I have always dreamed about doing something with Tigers but never had the chance to go after my dreams now i have ..would love to hear from you about how I can help thank you

Omar Aguasvivas commented:

April 29th, 2012 at 5:53 pm

I think tigers in Africa would be facinating. I mean tigers that would start living in Africa would live more. Plus evolution would start making a new species of tiger that would be called African Tigers. Plus every one would get to see and finally the question of wich big cat: lion or tigers is stronger,smarter,and faster. Seeing tigers and lions compete in the vast plains of the savanah for food , dominence and power would be a life experience. So I vote fo tigers to leave in Africa. Goooo African tigers the commming new species.

Carrie Raven commented:

September 14th, 2012 at 7:28 am

This is an interesting topic. I had the opportunity to see wild tigers in India and think that is the only place where they belong, in the wild. I’m not sure how I feel about returning South China Tigers to China from Africa, due to the increased risk of them being poached in their home country or escaping into Africa and becoming an “introduced species”. Many tigers are poached from India and Bangladesh for the value of their bones in traditional medicine even after a mandate was established by the Chinese government. Governments (especially those of a corrupt nature) need to be held accountable for population numbers and habitat management before there will be any real progress made in saving this amazing species… Something of which neither China or India have a good record of. And by the way, the tiger is already known to be the strongest, largest, purebred “big cat” in the world- there is no need for an “experiment”.

bill commented:

February 25th, 2013 at 10:59 pm

we should just cull off 3/4 of the Chinese instead.

terrence commented:

March 8th, 2013 at 2:37 pm

well i dont have a problem with tigers being in africa its just that, we dont know how a pride of lions will react to them and tigers will be just another cat for the hyenas to pick on. even thought tigers r strong in all unlike lions they dont have a pride to protect them and they can esily outnumbered by both hyenas and afican wild dogs.

don commented:

March 26th, 2013 at 10:23 am

I have traveled to Africa many times and I think the thought of being able to try and save the tiger by moving some to Africa would be a great idea. Yes, there will be the question of survival alongside the lion and other cats in Africa but that already exists. Let’s have at it.

Anand commented:

April 25th, 2013 at 8:39 pm

When bloody humans can survive in any part of the world and keep breeding 1 billion in 1900 to 6+ in 2010 why not tigers whose world population was 60,000 in around the same time and has even dwindled to few thousands be given he chance to recover.

Gianni C. commented:

August 22nd, 2013 at 4:00 pm

It would be a better idea to introduce the in the Amazon Forest, since they are a forest predator (african jungles are too dangerous with all the waars fought there).

Pamela Prill commented:

September 11th, 2013 at 4:11 am

Someone is telling me the are in the military there in Africa and telling me as they are on patrol they have seen tigers. In all I have read they are only in protected areas. Am I correct? Please help me and tell me if u would see a tiger in an open area? Thank u for you time.
B b b

Pamela Prill commented:

September 11th, 2013 at 4:13 am

If u were you On a military mission in Africa would you see tigers on patrol?
Thank you for your time

Sydney "Zap" commented:

September 18th, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Actually, the previous comment about releasing them to south America does have a good point. I love this idea of giving them a chance in Africa, and if you read you would know that they’re not actually being released there, but South America would be more ideal for teaching to hunt in the right habitat and possibly release if it comes to that. Of course, just like Africa, South America comes with its own set of problems.

PorkyPig commented:

November 15th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I feel compelled to respond to leonapp, who assumes that the wildlife in Africa won’t know how to respond to tigers because they’ve never seen them before. That’s just silly. There are already lions, leopards and cheetahs in their domain, so I’m sure that another large cat (albeit one with stripes) will be viewed by impala etc in exactly the same way they view any other big cat – with fear, naturally.

Ben commented:

December 24th, 2013 at 3:35 pm

if you were a tiger and had a choice of living in India were you could hunt Chital deer, Samba and Nilgia and between Africa were you could hunt, Wildebeest, Zebra, Roan antelope, Haretebeest, Impala, Kob, Grants gazelle, Oryx, Kudu, Eland, Bushbuck, Topi , wichh would you choose, please be honest.

kishan commented:

January 13th, 2014 at 7:06 am

Very good project..tigers must be saved ..n we want 2 see tigers hunting in african forest too..i want to work for the conservation of tigers..

Kerra commented:

January 31st, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Blah blah blah, havent read an article with so much whining in a while…anyways, asia as already decimated its tiger population, so why dont we see if the africans cant take a shot at saving the tiger…what do we possibly stand to loose ;-)… Boom!

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