Book Talk: Saving China's tigers in Africa

Wed Dec 1, 2010 7:56am EST
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By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - Staring down the barrel of extinction, the planet's tigers may have won a reprieve last week when Russia and China agreed with other Asian nations to double the world's population of the big cats by 2022.

Just 3,200 tigers now live in the wild, down from 100,000 a century ago, and those that remain face a losing battle with poachers who supply traders in India and China with tiger parts for traditional medicines and purported aphrodisiacs.

In a remote corner of South Africa and far from their natural Asian range, a unique project is underway to save one subspecies of the iconic predator, the south China tiger.

This "rewilding" project -- the brainchild of Chinese conservationist Li Quan -- began in 2003 with a pair of cubs, brought to South Africa from Chinese zoos, which learned how to hunt and fend for themselves.

The initial pair bred and others have been brought in, with the idea that rewilded "South African" tigers may eventually be released into their natural Asian habitat.

A new photo documentary book, "Rewilded," chronicles the project. Author Li Quan spoke to Reuters by phone about the project from her "tiger ranch" in South Africa.

Q: Why tigers? What prompted you to work for their conservation?

A: "The tiger itself is the most beautiful animal I believe in the world and it has a significant role in the ecosystem at the top of the food chain. And the tiger has played a big culture role in Chinese history. So we are not only saving the tiger itself but the entire ecosystem and also a Chinese cultural symbol."   Continued...

<p>A Siberian tiger growls at the St-Felicien Wildlife zoo in St-Felicien, Quebec November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger</p>