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Dramatic decline of wild South China tigers Panthera tigris amoyensis: field survey of priority tiger reserves

  • Ronald Tilson (a1), Hu Defu (a2), Jeff Muntifering (a1) and Philip J. Nyhus (a3)
Abstract

This paper describes results of a Sino-American field survey seeking evidence of South China tigers Panthera tigris amoyensis in the wild. In 2001 and 2002 field surveys were conducted in eight reserves in five provinces identified by government authorities as habitat most likely to contain tigers. The surveys evaluated and documented evidence for the presence of tigers, tiger prey and habitat disturbance. Approximately 290 km of mountain trails were evaluated. Infrared remote cameras set up in two reserves captured 400 trap days of data. Thirty formal and numerous informal interviews were conducted with villagers to document wildlife knowledge, livestock management practices, and local land and resource use. We found no evidence of wild South China tigers, few prey species, and no livestock depredation by tigers reported in the last 10 years. Forest areas designated as tiger reserves, averaging about 100 km2 in size, are too small to support even a few tigers because commercial tree farms and other habitat conversion is common, and people and their livestock dominate these fragments. While our survey may not have been exhaustive, and there may be a single tiger or a few isolated tigers still remaining at sites we missed, our results strongly indicate that no remaining viable populations of South China tigers occur within its historical range. We conclude that continued field efforts are needed to ascertain whether any wild tigers may yet persist, concurrent with the need to consider options for the eventual recovery and restoration of wild tiger populations from existing captive populations.

This paper describes results of a Sino-American field survey seeking evidence of South China tigers Panthera tigris amoyensis in the wild. In 2001 and 2002 field surveys were conducted in eight reserves in five provinces identified by government authorities as habitat most likely to contain tigers. The surveys evaluated and documented evidence for the presence of tigers, tiger prey and habitat disturbance. Approximately 290 km of mountain trails were evaluated. Infrared remote cameras set up in two reserves captured 400 trap days of data. Thirty formal and numerous informal interviews were conducted with villagers to document wildlife knowledge, livestock management practices, and local land and resource use. We found no evidence of wild South China tigers, few prey species, and no livestock depredation by tigers reported in the last 10 years. Forest areas designated as tiger reserves, averaging about 100 km2 in size, are too small to support even a few tigers because commercial tree farms and other habitat conversion is common, and people and their livestock dominate these fragments. While our survey may not have been exhaustive, and there may be a single tiger or a few isolated tigers still remaining at sites we missed, our results strongly indicate that no remaining viable populations of South China tigers occur within its historical range. We conclude that continued field efforts are needed to ascertain whether any wild tigers may yet persist, concurrent with the need to consider options for the eventual recovery and restoration of wild tiger populations from existing captive populations.

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Corresponding author
Correspondence: Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, Minnesota, 55124, USA, and The Tiger Foundation, Vancouver, Canada. Email rtilson@5tigers.org
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Oryx
  • ISSN: 0030-6053
  • EISSN: 1365-3008
  • URL: /core/journals/oryx
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