Pioneering Tiger Dies in South African Reserve

Sept 26, Laohu Valley Reserve, Free State, South Africa

Save China’s Tigers is deeply saddened to announce the death of a South China Tiger under its care in the evening of September 17.

An adult male tiger broke through a gate of adjoining tiger camps to attack another adult male but was subsequently killed by the second male.

Both tigers were part of a decade-long conservation project to rewild and breed critically endangered South China tigers before returning them to protected nature reserves in China.

While feeding some tigers, staff heard loud roaring and growls from another tiger camp. Rushing to inspect, staff found one large male tiger had another male pinned down to the ground and was holding him by the throat. They immediately started shouting and blowing vehicle horns to no avail. They then entered the camp in a truck and drove off the other tiger, separating him into another camp.

The pinned tiger, named ‘327’ was found dead and closer inspection noted throat injuries. The entire skirmish lasted only about five minutes. An assessment of the circumstances reveals that 327 had charged right through electrified gate separating the tigers to attack the other male. Subsequent testing of fencing voltages revealed the fencing was still operating at recommended performance, however, the tiger had broken through the gate area which does not have the added electrified tripwire security. All gates on the reserve had been upgraded with added steel mesh protection after a similar fence-breaking incidence a couple of months earlier, but this was one of the four remaining gates that had not yet been upgraded.

Inspection of the second male showed no obvious injuries except a few scratches. 327 was the only first generation tiger at Laohu who was not put into our rewilding program due to his age when he came to South Africa. It is evident that he was no match for the second male who has gone through rewilding training for six years and acquired superb hunting skills, and who killed 327 easily despite being smaller than him .

An autopsy has been performed by an experienced veterinarian who confirmed 327’s cause of death.

Born in captivity, 327 was four and a half years old when he was flown from China’s Suzhou Zoo in April 2007 as part of the Save China’s Tigers project’s innovative rewilding and breeding program in collaboration with the Chinese government. 327 was named after his stud-book registration number. Hand-reared by human parents, he was extremely habituated to humans. Declining to mate with the two tigresses, he was banished to a natural environment for about a year feeding entirely on natural prey. He thrived and ended up fathering three litters of four healthy cubs (and potentially more to come by another female in October).

Save China’s Tigers Founding Director, Ms. Li Quan said that she and her team are devastated by the loss of the tiger – “With so few South China tigers left, the loss of just one breeding male is profound. I am however glad that he lived half of his life like a wild tiger, instead of perishing in a zoo cage. He died a heroic death, tiger-style.”

Reserve Manager Hein Funck said: “Although I only knew him for a short time, he made a big impression. I’ll miss his cheeky strut and his loving rumble.”

Tigers have complex behaviors and while adult siblings often share a prey in the wild, males will have to fight for territory in order to survive and to mate with females. Laohu Valley Reserve is currently home to eleven tigers where they have been undergoing rewild training and participating in a breeding program that counts 8 healthy second generation tigers born in SA – three of them sired by 327. The IUCN Red Listed South China tiger as critically endangered due to pest elimination campaign in the 60’s and seventies as well as habitat encroachment and loss of prey due to development.

“Despite our best efforts, we were unable to prevent this unfortunate loss. We have learned another lesson - we are now dealing with rewilded and highly intelligent big cats that can hunt and kill efficiently. We will need to improve our safety standards and protocols accordingly. As one scientist noted, in a perverse way this accident shows that the rewilding project has proven to be a success. 327 was a majestic tiger and will be missed by all of us who are fond of him. In spite of these sometimes heart-breaking challenges, we at Save China’s Tigers remain committed to our work of saving the South China tiger from extinction and restoring its ecosystem for generations to come.” said Ms. Quan.

Memorial donations will be accepted in honor of 327 at: http://english.savechinastigers.org/donatenow

Or email: info@savechinastigers.org

Detailed report will be available upon request.

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