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South China Tiger

IUCN Red List status - Critically Endangered

The South China tiger is up to 265cm in length and weighs up to 175kg. The females are naturally smaller. The coat of this tiger subspecies is much shorter than that of Bengal or Amur tigers and it is yellowisher in colour. Its home range spread once across central and eastern China, but there has been no confirmed sighting of this tiger subspecies since 1970.

The IUCN
(International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies the South China tiger as Critically Endangered; possibly extinct in the wild. Although scientific surveys were not able to find any evidence for the existence of South China tigers in its natural habitat, it is not conclusive that they are extinct in the wild based on unofficial survey findings of tracks as wwell as sightings by local people. Furthermore the IUCN indicates that scientific research did not cover the entire home range of this tiger subspecies.

Aspects that contribute to the IUCN annotation 'possibly extinct in the wild' to the Red List classification for the South China tiger include the very low prey density plus habitat loss and fragmentation, which are progressing rapidly.

In the 1950s, the South China tiger population was estimated at over 4,000 individuals, but this subspecies was persecuted and killed as it was seen as pest, which led in combination with habitat loss and prey depletion to a significant decline of the tiger population in China over the following few decades.

An official survey in 1982 estimated the South China tiger population to be down to 150-200 individuals. Another survey across 11 reserves 10 years later, still found evidence in form of tracks and scrapes, but the data was considered insufficient to estimate the tiger population, and the following survey at the beginning of the current century was unable to find any evidence of South China tigers still being out in the wild.

There are around 70 South China tigers in captivity and most of these are in China, some in South Africa and some maybe in other countries. According to our information, there are no tigers of this subspecies in the UK.

Although it is feared that the captive South China tigers have a reduced genetic diversity
(going back to only six different individuals) and there may have been also crossbreeding with other tiger subspecies, 2 different programmes for a reintroduction into its natural habitat have been started:
China's State Forestry Administration
(SFA) works in co-operation with UK-based Save China's Tigers to re-introduce South China tigers, which are held in a reserve in South Africa. A team of scientists have evaluated potential sites and plans to restore the habitat and reintroduce tiger prey species are under way (for more details on this programme please click on the highlighted term 'Save China's Tigers' above).
Concerns by the international conservation community are about the unorthodox method of having tigers learning to hunt in an area, which does not provide prey species that would be present in the natural habitat. Another concern is about the lack of genetic diversity, which may have an impact on successful breeding and other health aspects. Furthermore, the size of the proposed reintroduction area appears to be too small from the perspective of exterts in tiger conservation.

The second option the SFA is working on in co-operation with the South China Tiger Advisory Office
(SCTAO) is a long-term effort to recover wild populations of South China Tiger and to work on larger recovery sites to support long-term viable tiger populations in the wild. Field research and workshops have been carried out to find suitable recovery sites.


The information about South China tigers was sourced from the IUCN, 21st Century Tiger and Save China's Tigers web pages