South China Tiger
Name: South China Tiger
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (Functionally Extinct in the Wild)
Population Estimate: Fewer than 200
Range: Chinese Zoos and Breeding Facilities
Threats: Lack of Biological Diversity to Sustain the Species
The South China tiger is one of the smallest of all the tiger subspecies, and it is the most critically endangered of the tiger subspecies. Most experts agree it is functionally extinct in the wild, which means there aren’t enough tigers left in the wild (if there are any left in the wild) for a sustainable population.
The reality is that no South China tiger has been seen in the wild for the last 30-40 years.
Yet in the 1970’s, it was estimated there were over 4,000 South China tigers in the wild living mostly in central and eastern China. However, they were considered ‘pests’ by the Chinese government who quickly hunted them to their current status of being on the brink of extinction. By 1987, the remnant wild population of these tigers was estimated at 30-40 individuals.
In 2021, the estimated 200 remaining tigers are all offspring of six wild tigers captured between 1958 and 1970. They are all living in Chinese zoos or breeding centers.
Description and Habitat:
The South China Tiger is known by many names, including the Amoy Tiger, Chinese Tiger and Xiamen Tiger.
Their historical range was throughout the southern provinces of China, including the Hunan, Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangdong provinces. They inhabited fragmented ranges of land, typically mountains, evergreen forests, thick, damp tropical forests and rocky mountains.
This tiger is relatively small compared to other tiger subspecies. Males may range between 6-7 ft. (1.8 and 2 m.) long and weigh about 330 lbs. (150kg) and females are around 5 ft. (1.6 m.) and approximately 240 lbs. (109 kg). The largest Siberian tiger on record was over 800 lbs. (362 kg.)
Since there are no South China tigers living in the wild, they do not face the types of threats the other subspecies of tigers do such as poaching, habitat loss and human-tiger conflict. They have already faced those threats and have lost that fight.
The key threat now facing this subspecies of tiger is genetic diversity and whether there is enough of it in the captive population of tigers to allow for an increase in their population.
In 1973, the Chinese State Department started to list the South China tiger as a third-degree protected animal. In 1977 they were classified as protected and hunting was prohibited.
In 1981, the tiger was listed as an endangered species in the appendix 1 list of CITES. And it was included in the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered in 2012.
All South China tigers are living in Chinese zoos or breeding centers. The Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens has been keeping track of all the South China tigers in captivity in a studbook.
Research and efforts continue to increase the captive population to reintroduce this tiger back to the wild. And the only hope of the South China tiger population increasing and then being able to return to the wild will depend on success of the research being done on tigers in captivity.