Volunteer Sophie Mottram's Story

Sophie swam the 12 miles and raised £2000 for SCT. She was invited to work with our staff at Laohu Valley Reserve and see behind the scenes' rewilding operation. Below is her own account of her experiences.

Sophie Says: “The first thing that blew me away when I first got to the Laohu Reserve, was the sheer scale of the place, 33,000 hectares!!! Massive! It was so stunning, I could only gaze outside the window of the Toyota van with my jaw on the floor in total amazement! Beautiful rolling hills, blue sky, with the odd antelope trotting along! Something else I noticed immediately, was the silence… not a sound!

We arrived at the volunteer house, which again was in a stunning setting, got myself settled in, added a few more layers to my current fleece (do not be fooled into thinking that South African winters are warm!), Then I had a quick kip after the long journey over from the UK.

Come the morning, and it was what I’d been waiting for, to go and see the tigers! I was so excited, the idea of actually seeing these incredible animals in the wild was too good to be true!! So, with layers intact, hat and gloves, myself, Kate (another volunteer), Tigris and Jane (trainee rangers) got into the van, and began our short journey over many bumps, to the Tiger enclosures. 10 minutes later and there they were! We found them, Tiger Woods, Cathay and Madonna, in the ½ h camp, lazing in the sun. It’s hard to describe how you feel when you first set your eyes on such amazing animals. You see pictures of tigers of which you can only admire, but the vibrancy of their coats, pride in which they walk, and the sheer muscle content of the Southern China Tiger is unbelievable. We watched and followed, marking down behavioural aspects, where they went, and general interaction between the 3. It was lovely to watch them nuzzling one another, and having play fights, though a tiger play fight is not something you would wish to be involved in!

Over the 3 weeks I was lucky enough to be at the Reserve, various patterns began to emerge amongst the tigers. It was clear that there was a romance blossoming between Tiger Woods and Cathay, and hopefully the possibility of cubs may be near! They often played together, and had lots of nuzzling sessions!! However, one couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for Madonna, as she often appeared to be left out, and lagged behind a lot of the time.

The dominance also seemed to shift, as when I first arrived, Cathay appeared to be very much in charge. After 2 weeks or so, it seemed that Tiger Woods was asserting his male pride over the 2 females! The tigers also sprayed bushes often, a sign of marking their territory in the wild. It was very interesting to watch the tigers feed. The tigers were given a dead wildebeest, which did not last very long! But even over food, dominance played a big role. Cathay was the first to reach the meat (the hide of a wildebeest is extremely tough, even for a tiger), and fed for some time before the others were allowed a look in! Tiger Woods was next to feed, and then Madonna. A lot of hungry growling from Madonna occurred during the wait! We monitored the tigers every morning and afternoon, noting down all aspects of their behaviour, each day providing a few more surprises!

It is extremely hard to describe just how incredible these animals are in words, and I feel unbelievably privileged to have been able to witness this programme in its early stages. The work Save China’s Tigers is doing is essential to the survival of this sub-species. Without it, it is unlikely they will survive, and I know I am not the only one who thinks that this would be an immense tragedy.