China 'training' Amur tigers to survive in the wild
Feb 5, 2014
Tigers at the Heilongjiang breeding centre being fed live chickens by visitors; courtesy of David Neale, Animals Asia
TigerTime has been disappointed by the circulation and apparent endorsement by news agencies, including the BBC, of the story that China's leading breeding centre for Amur (Siberian) tigers has started a new round of exercises designed to train its endangered inhabitants for a return to the wild.
Two and three-year old tiger cubs are undergoing what officials call "wilderness training" at the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Garden in north-east China, state news agency Xinhua reported. It's part of an effort to raise numbers of the endangered species living in the wild.
The training in winter snow can be a "solid step" for the animals, who need to survive in the mountains and "multiply by themselves", zoologists say.
Amur (Siberian) tigers are one of the world's most endangered species. It's estimated there are c350-400 left in the wild, of which only 20 survive in north-east China. The centre at Heilongjiang has seen more than 1,000 births since 1996.
"What is not stated is exactly how many of those 1,000 tigers have already been returned to the wild," says TigerTime. "What's more, anyone who has been to the centre knows that the tigers are not fit for release. They are too accustomed to humans and are fed a diet of live chickens and cows. Hardly sufficient training to survive in the wild and to stay away from conflict with humans.
"We'll watch with interest to see the story unfold and the success rates of the release of these precious big cats into the wild."
The recent history of the tiger in China is a sad one:
In 1949 there were an estimated 4,000 wild tigers at the founding of the People's Republic of China.
In the 1950s the Chinese Government offered a bounty for killing tigers, only cancelling the bounty in 1977 after a dramatic decrease in tiger numbers was noticed.
In 1984 the government established a conservation-breeding programme for the rare South China tiger in Chongqing Zoo and the US ship Amur tigers to zoos in China.
In 1985 China Crude Drugs Company announded a national scarcity of wild animals and plants used in traditional medicine, including tigers. The US ship more Amur tigers to China.
In 1986 China's first commercial tiger farm was established in Heilongjiang Provice with support from the Ministry of Forestry.
In 1987 CITES adds the Amur tiger to Appendix 1, baning all international commercial trade in tigers and their parts and products. The Chinese National Pharmaceutical Bureau gives Beijing Pharmaceutical Company a remit to use tiger farming to solve the shortage of tiger bones. Indian authorities apprehend poaching with tiger skeletons...
You can read the complete summary of the tiger farming timeline produced by TigerTime partner EIA here
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