Preventing the extinction of the South China tiger depends fundamentally on breeding - even more than rewilding. It has been estimated that a genetically viable population of tigers requires something on the order of 100 breeding females.  This could mean a total population of something like 300 individuals because not every female breeds successfully.

South China tigers today are descended from only 6 individuals caught in the 1950s and have therefore been reproducing in captivity with close relatives for many years. This presents a number of challenges. For example, loss of genetic diversity, can cause a potential overall reduction in the health of a species.

However, other species have survived genetic bottlenecks, including: Pere David’s deer, black-footed ferrets, California condors, Przewalski’s horses, the Southern white rhino and the giant panda. The cheetah survived an extreme population reduction some 10,000 years ago to possibly a handful of females. The bottleneck was so extreme that even usually highly diverse genes showed very low levels of diversity. So, low genetic diversity and inbreeding is not always deleterious. Some small populations may be stable while permanently maintaining low levels of genetic diversity.

An important pillar of the Chinese Tiger Project is a well-planned and aggressive breeding program that has seen notable success. Our breeding program is managed with the input from scientific experts, coordination with our Chinese government partners as well as ongoing veterinary supervision.  A healthy diet of fresh game and living in a protected natural environment is an important part of our breeding program. We are offering this subspecies a chance to breed through the genetic bottleneck which they would not otherwise have. There were approximately 50 South China tigers when Save China’s Tigers was established in 2000.  There are over 100 today.

Laohu Valley Reserve had its first two sexually mature females, Cathay and Madonna, in 2005 and 2006. Recent years has seen the birth of another healthy female cub followed by triplets – important milestones in creating a viable base population of healthy individuals for later reintroduction in China.

We now have 9 females and a healthy total population of 19 South China tigers.

An important pillar of the South China Tiger Project is a well-planned and aggressive breeding program that has seen outstanding success.

Hulooo - the first South China tiger born outside of China. 30 sec. video.