The Wild South China Tiger: The Photographers Account

The South China Tiger has already been declared ‘functionally extinct’ in the wild by organizations such as the WWF and Minnesota Zoo, but these photographs may just prove them to be wrong.
tiger in wild

News and photos from:

South China Tiger has been found for the first time in 43 years in Shaanxi Province.

On October 11th 2007, a tiger photograph taken by Zhenglong Zhou, a villager from Zhenping County in Ankang City, Shaanxi Province of China, was confirmed to be a South China Tiger, after careful examination by experts from Shaanxi Province Forestry Bureau. This is the first record since 1964 of South China Tigers in the wild in Shaanxi Province's Qinba Mountains.

The photos were released to the public on the morning of October 12th 2007. The head and half of the body of the mature South China Tiger can be clearly viewed from the photo. The features of the tiger matches those of South China Tigers. South China Tigers have been living around eight areas in China, and Qinba Mountains is the northernmost area of their distribution. There have been records of South China Tigers in Ankang City, mostly around Zhenping County and Pingli County.

The Forestry Bureau of Shaanxi Province has requested the relevant administration to take action. They suggest the following:

  1. Establish Zhen Ping County South China Tiger Reserve in Shaanxi;
  2. Strictly restrict access to any possible living areas of the tigers;
  3. Survey the living areas of the tigers.

As to the difficulty in taking tiger photos, Ping Li from the Wildlife Reserve Team in Zhenping County, says: "Tigers hunt and live in a rather large area. There is very limited opportunity to take pictures of the South China Tiger in the wild. Proper equipment for photography is essential as well. If this picture is confirmed to be a South China Tiger that would be most lucky."

"If there are videos or photos of a South China Tiger in the wild, there will be a big chance to save the whole species from extinction." says Zhigang Jiang from the Animal Department of the China Science Bureau. Jiang has also claimed that Zhenping County used to be an important distribution area of South China Tigers in the past. Surveys in 1989 have shown that Zhenping County has large forests and few people and is connected to the Daba Mountains Jungle (which is the original area South China Tigers lived in). It is possible to find South China Tigers left in the wild. The Plantation and Reserve projects in recent years have greatly improved the environment for tigers.

"One Flash, the Tiger Roars" a description from the villager Zhou who took the photos.

tiger in wild

Zhou was hiding in the grass with his camera ready for the tiger. With the "PAH" sound of the flash, the tiger roared out furiously. Zhou got scared and hid behind a rock, with his heart beating fast. When he finally calmed down, it was quiet and the tiger had already disappeared.

The terrified Zhou found himself soaked with sweat, but he was very excited. On October 4th 2007, he finally managed to take a photo of the tiger. He ran all the way back to town from the mountain. Zhou used to be a very good hunter. Now he makes a living as a lacquer cutter. In 2006, after the establishment of the South China Tiger Inspection Team by both the Shaanxi Province Forestry Bureau and Zhenping government, Zhou was appointed as the guide of the team.

Zhou was born and bred in the mountains and he is familiar with every tree and blade of grass in it. He has confronted the tigers several times in the mountains. "If you give me a camera, I will show you a tiger." he claimed with confidence. When the summer and winter survey teams visited last year, he claimed repeatedly to the authorities that there were wild tigers in this area. The authorities responded: "Unless you take a tiger photo in the wild, we won’t take your word. Digital photos don’t count."

After the team left, he kept thinking about the tigers. Early in the dark of October 3rd, he went into the mountains again. He brought two cameras with him, one an old fashioned "Great Wall" film camera, one a brand new digital camera which he had borrowed from relatives in town.

He soon found fresh paw prints of the tigers. In a stream near the rocks, he found some signs where a tiger had drunk from the stream. Zhou searched for other clues with extra care. At around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when he was about to give up, he suddenly saw a cave in the rocks, as well as something yellowish like a tiger. As he looked more carefully, IT WAS A TIGER!

As Zhou quietly got closer, he took photos with both cameras from behind the big rock. As he got closer and closer, to within about 20 metres, he began shaking with fear and he could hardly hold his cameras. He tried his best to calm himself and hold the cameras steady. As he was getting closer and taking more photos, the camera suddenly flashed with a loud "PAH” sound. He saw the tiger move, so he rolled back behind the rock to hide himself with his heart beating fast. Hearing a loud and long furious roar coming from the tiger, he stood still behind the rock holding his breath.

After a few minutes, there was peace and quiet. Zhou took another look in the cave, the tiger had already disappeared. At this moment, he found himself soaked with sweat of fear. The tiger could be viewed clearly when he printed out the films. The one where the flash had gone off, only showed the tiger's eyes. When he recalls the whole dangerous experience, he finds himself fortunate to have not taken his son as an assistant.

Other Witnesses
On October 5th, a tiger attacked a cow. Neck and soft bones were bitten by the sharp teeth. At 9.20 am on October 11th, with guidance from a villager, journalists and authorities from Zhenping County and the Forestry Bureau visited the scene of the dead cow. The villager, Deyun Li, in his 50's, found the body of the cow in the Huanglianchang Hills, which is 20 miles from his village.

tiger in wild

Huanglianchang, 2 000m above sea level, has had few visitors in recent years. With Deyun's guidance, footprints of cows and big cats can be clearly viewed in the hills. Yanping Tian, a staffer from the wildlife bureau has measured the footprints to be 13 x 14 cm. They are some 50 metres long dragging trails around the footprints. Following the trails, more and more foot prints of a big cat have been found. A nasty odour was spreading within 50 metres from the alley, where a dead cow lay on the hill. There were clear scratch marks of a big cat on the trees beside the cow’s body. Yanhua believes that a South China Tiger had bitten and broken the cow's neck on that tree.

A bear carcass scared a woman villager. Yongju Wang, from Xiangping Village, was the first one who found the bear’s body. On the morning of September 13th, Yongju was collecting medicine with her husband in Tongchangwan Hill. Yongju suddenly saw a big bear lying 20 metres away from her. She quickly crawled up a tree; her husband found another tree.
The couple watched the bear for a while, but the bear was not moving at all. Zijin drummed up his courage to get closer to the bear, and then he found it was dead with only skin and legs left. They wondered what kind of animal in the forest can beat the bear. Both had grown up in the mountains and Yongju and Zijin have heard about the power of tigers. Older people have a saying that “Tiger goes bright, tiger goes ridge”, meaning tigers are living within the thinner parts of the forest on the mountain’s ridge. The place where the bear was found was in thinner forest, and it was not far from the mountain’s ridge. The couple both agreed that the bear was eaten by a South China Tiger.

Early on the morning of September 14th, staffers from Zhenping County Forestry Bureau travelled on foot for three hours to visit the scene. Within the 40 square metre area around the bear, about six trees of 10cm diameter had been crushed; many other smaller trees had been damaged as well. A big tree had a 40cm trail of claw marks on the bark, 2 metres from ground. Only skins, two paws, part of a back leg, and parts of the intestines were left of the bear. Clear footprints of a big cat and some white and yellow hair were also found there. The foot prints are about 15cm long. Staffers confirm that the bear was killed by a tiger.

Zhenping County has been an important habitat for South China Tigers throughout history, but South China Tigers have not been seen in nearly 30 years. Most villagers from Zhenping County believe tigers still exist, but hiding somewhere deep in the forest. The Plantation Project and Forest Reserve Project in recent years have greatly improved the habitat for tigers. In Zhenping County, tigers were viewed and hvae been heard several times. Shaanxi Province Forestry bureau has recently published its report, Results of Survey of South China Tigers in Zhenping County Shaanxi. It shows 17 reports from witnesses of South China Tigers; 10 reports of animals or humans who had been bitten by tigers, 6 reports of hearing tigers’ roar. On the July 6th this year, 7 wildlife experts examined this report carefully, all agreed: South China Tigers exist in Zhenping County Shaanxi Province. According to the Mayor of Zhenping County “Frequent report from witnesses of South China Tigers shed light on saving this creature from extinction.”

Photos and videos © Save China's Tigers UK Charity No.1082216