The South China tiger is a tiger subspecies that was native to the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi in southern China. The Chinese tiger (commonly known as South China Tiger) is the most endangered of the five remaining subspecies of tiger and it is believed to be the origin of all the tiger subspecies. It has been classified as critically endangered since 1996 as it is possibly extinct in the wild. There is a small chance that some individuals still exist, but already in the late 1990s, continued survival was considered unlikely due to low prey density, widespread habitat degradation and fragmentation, and other human pressures. No official or biologist has seen a wild South China tiger since the early 1970s, when the last verified record is of an individual brought into captivity.

The South China tiger is the smallest tiger subspecies from mainland Asia, but bigger than the subspecies known from the Sunda islands such as the Sumatran tiger. Male measure from 91 to 104 inches and weigh 290 to 390 lbs. Females are smaller and measure 87 to 94 inches and weigh 240 to 250 lbs.

Tigers are carnivores. They prefer hunting wild pig, deer, muntjac and Gray langur. Small prey species such as porcupines, hares and peafowl form a very small part in their diet. Due to the encroachment of humans into their habitat, they also prey on domestic livestock.

In the early 1950s, the South China tiger was reported to number more than 4,000 individuals in the wild when it became the target of large-scale government ‘anti-pest’ campaigns promulgated by Mao Zedong’s ‘Great Leap Forward’. By 1982, only an estimated 150–200 South China tigers remained in the wild.

In 1973, South China tigers were classified as protected by controlled hunting. In 1977, they were classified as protected, and hunting them was prohibited.

As of March 1986, 17 Chinese zoos kept 40 purebred South China tigers in their collections, including 23 males and 14 females, none of which were wild-born. All were third or fourth generation descendants of one wild Fujian tigress and five Guizhou tigers.

By 1987, the remnant population of wild South China tigers was estimated at 30–40 individuals, so that danger of extinction was imminent. During a survey in 1990, South China tiger signs were found in 11 reserves in the mountains of Sichuan, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi and Fujian Provinces, but these data were insufficient to estimate population size. No tigers were directly observed; evidence was limited to sightings of tracks, scrapings and reported sightings by local people.

In 2001, field studies were carried out in eight protected areas encompassing 855 sq miles in five provinces of south-central China using camera traps, GPS technology and extensive sign surveys. But no evidence of tigers was found.

A South China Tiger in the Beijing Zoo

There may still be some surviving South China tigers in the wild, with reports of tracks and local people sightings from Qizimei Mountains Nature Reserve, Hubei Province and in Yihuang county of Jiangxi Province. In May 2007, the Government of China reported that there is no confirmed presence, and declared the goal to reintroduce South China tigers to the wild.

The non-governmental organisation Save China's Tigers, with support of China’s State Forestry Administration, has developed a plan to reintroduce captive-born South China tigers into large enclosures in southern China. The main concerns regarding the reintroduction are the availability of suitable habitat and adequate prey.

One cub was born in a reserve in South Africa in November 2007, the first to be born outside China. Since then, a number of cubs have been produced.

The new cub at one week old

and again at one month old

After a gestation period of 3 to 4 months, the female South China tiger gives birth to up to 5 cubs. Newborn South China tiger cubs weigh about 2 lbs and are blind and helpless. The mother feeds them milk for about 2 months and then the South China tiger cubs are introduced to meat. South China tiger cubs depend on their mother for the first 18 months and then they start hunting on their own.

China's captive South China tigers are now part of a centrally registered studbook. Before a studbook was established it was thought that this captive population was too small and lacking in genetic diversity for any re-population program to be successful, but since the start of the central register more and more South China tigers have been identified in zoos across China. Save China's Tigers aims to rewild the critically endangered South China tiger by bringing a few captive-bred individuals to South Africa for rehabilitation training for them to regain their hunting instincts. At the same time, a pilot reserve in China is being set up and the tigers will be relocated and release back in China when the reserve in China is ready. The offspring of the trained tigers will be released into the pilot reserves in China, while the original animals will stay in South Africa to continue breeding.

The reason South Africa was chosen is because it is able to provide expertise and resources, land and game for the South China tigers. The South China tigers of the project has since been successfully rewilded and are fully capable of hunting and surviving on their own. This project is also very successful in the breeding of these rewilded South China tigers and 14 cubs have been born in the project of which 11 survived. These cubs of the 2nd generation would be able to learn their survival skills from their successfully rewilded mothers directly.

It is hoped that the first second generation tigers born at South Africa can be released into the wild.

Due to the size and power of the South China tiger, it has no natural predators in its native environment. Humans that hunt the South China tiger and habitat loss are the only threats to the South China tiger.

One hundred years ago there were eight subspecies of tiger. Three subspecies are now extinct:

The Bali tiger
The Javan tiger &
The Caspian tiger

Approximately 3,000 tigers were killed over 30 years ...

The fate of the Chinese Tigers lies in our hands ...

Are you willing to help? You can Donate by Mail at the following addresses:

66D Royal Mint Street,
London E1 8LG, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 (0)20 7072 0930
UK Charity No.1082216

Save China’s Tigers (Australia)
PO Box 1915
Bondi Junction NSW 1355 Australia
Phone: +612 93865888
ABN 67 143 460 397

P.O. Box 98322,
Tsimshatsui Post Office,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2525 8786
Reg. Charity No.28865

PO Box 1928
Chinese Forestry Academy
100091 Beijing, China
Phone: +86 (0)10 6286 6588

Save China's Tigers (SA)
Free State
South Africa

For any questions you might have about rewilding or adoptng one of the Tiger cubs, , please email Save China's Tigers at:

Well Known and respected Chinese Gong Fu and International Film Star Jackie Chang is Ambassador for Save China's Tigers"