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Fight to save South China Tiger -

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Fight to save South China Tiger

Broadcast: 08/03/2010

Reporter: Thea Dikeos

The South China Tiger is one of the rarest species, it hasn't been sighted in the wilderness for
more than 20 years, and the World Wildlife Fund has declared it all but extinct. But Chinese
business woman Li Quan is determined to turn the situation around.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: 2010 may be the Chinese Year of the Tiger, but the future of this
majestic animal is bleak. Conservationists say a century ago there were as many as 100,000 tigers
around the world. Now, there are only about 3,000 in the wild.

The South China Tiger is one of the rarest species. It hasn't been sighted in the wilderness for
more than 20 years and the World Wildlife Fund has declared it all but extinct. But one Chinese
businesswoman is determined to turn that situation around. Li Quan runs a controversial breeding
program in southern Africa which aims to reintroduce at least five South China Tigers back into the
wild this year. Thea Dikeos reports.

THEA DIKEOS, REPORTER: They once roamed the world in the tens of thousands. Now, the only place
you're likely to see the world's biggest cat is in a zoo.

MICHAEL BALTZER, WWF: The situation for tigers looks extremely bleak at the moment.

THEA DIKEOS: Conservationists estimate that there are 3,200 tigers left in the wild. Over the last
100 years, their numbers have declined as their habitats have shrunk and they've been hunted for
their body parts for use in Chinese medicine. But tiger conservationists say they're stepping up
their efforts to save the big cat from extinction, inspired by this year's Chinese Year of the
Tiger.

MICHAEL BALTZER: The tiger conservation world has drawn a line in the sand and said, "OK, now we
have to turn around the future for tigers." So, this is not just the conservation organisations,
but also the governments of those countries that are supporting tigers. They've said, "Enough is
enough."

THEA DIKEOS: Here at this reserve in South Africa, one woman is running an experimental program to
save one of the species most at risk of disappearing, the South China Tiger. Li Quan says there are
probably only 30 left in the wild.

LI QUAN, FOUNDING DIRECTOR, SAVE CHINA'S TIGERS: The South China Tiger is like a sick patient. If
you don't do anything, the sick patient will die certainly, however, if we do something, the sick
patient might recover. He may still die, but if we don't do anything, he will certainly die. So I'm
gonna stake whatever I have to save the sick patient, the South China Tiger.

THEA DIKEOS: Li Quan was the head of licensing for the high-end fashion label Gucci, but her
passion has always been big cats. In 1998, a trip to a wildlife reserve in Africa inspired her to
direct her efforts towards tiger conservation in China.

LI QUAN: I went there and I saw to my complete surprise the entire ecosystem was not only the
lepers, but lions and elephants and crocodiles. It was just so amazing. It was an emotional
experience for me. If China can have something like this, if China can have an ecosystem, a
national park, with all the kind of indigenous Chinese animals, then probably it may change the
frame-mind of Chinese people. Probably they will want to help more the wildlife.

THEA DIKEOS: Li Quan then approached the Chinese Government and it suggested she put her efforts
into saving the South China Tiger. With the help of her investment banker husband and a team of
experts, she set up a breeding program for South China Tigers in South Africa.

LI QUAN: We have spent about US$20 million to set up the reserve in South Africa, to build the
infrastructure and to take the tigers there.

THEA DIKEOS: In 2003, Li Quan took two pairs of South China Tigers from a Chinese zoo to South
Africa, with the aim of breeding them and teaching them to hunt in the wild.

LI QUAN: By now, all the four adults have bred and all the offsprings we got, the five offsprings
have successfully learned to hunt, two from the mother and three on their own.

THEA DIKEOS: In this Year of the Tiger, Li Quan plans to return the cubs to a wildlife reserve
earmarked by the Chinese Government.

MICHAEL BALTZER: From our opinion, it's much more effective and efficient to protect those tigers
that will remain in the forest than to set up captive breeding and at huge expenses incurred to
take tigers from a captive breeding situation, back into the wild.

THEA DIKEOS: Li Quan's plan has drawn criticism from established wildlife organisations like the
World Wildlife Fund, who see the program as a big gamble.

MICHAEL BALTZER: Our investment is probably better placed in Britons looking after those tigers in
the wild, rather than setting up artificial parks. However, there's still room and scope for doing
projects like this, but I would say at this stage they're very much experiments.

LI QUAN: We have agreement with the Chinese Government and the agreement basically dictates once we
have (inaudible) South China Tigers, they'll be responsible for providing the habitat for the
tigers to return.

THEA DIKEOS: Will you be monitoring that?

LI QUAN: We'll be working together with the Government to make sure the tigers will have a good
habitat, will survive long term and will prosper in China.

THEA DIKEOS: The leader of the WWF tiger initiative, Michael Baltzer, says the South China Tiger is
all but a lost cause and resources could be better spent on other tiger species that may be viable
in the wild.

MICHAEL BALTZER: There's not been much evidence for a long time of the South China Tiger, and so
even if there are a few individuals running around in south China, the chance of them coming
together and the population increasing is pretty unlikely. So that's why we call them basically
ecologically extinct.

THEA DIKEOS: Li Quan has accused WWF of not spending enough money on tiger conservation, despite
raising millions of dollars in donations.

LI QUAN: The tiger is the most political of all animals, so every organisation want to use part of
it to raise profile for them. However, many conservation organisations, particularly the big ones,
actually spend a very small percentage of the funding actually on conservation, on tiger
conservation.

MICHAEL BALTZER: Most of the money that we're raising is going into the field and we're seeing our
money invested in 11 different countries across Asia working from supporting rangers in the field
up to influencing governmental policy and supporting the implementation against trade in tigers.

THEA DIKEOS: But Li Quan says the number of tigers continues to decline, despite the
conservationists' best efforts and drastic action is now needed.

LI QUAN: Right now indeed the South China Tiger will face extinction if we don't do anything, but
I'm very hopeful that through what we're doing, the South China Tiger will return back to the wild
in China, will become the mountain king again, the king of the forests and lord of 100 beasts.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Thea Dikeos with that report.