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Can tiger both reclaim, become wild?
(China Daily by Qin Chuan)
Updated: 2004-03-01 23:33

Imagine an endangered tiger species without a proper home or the means to survive in the wild.

Enter Chinese and foreign experts carefully examining two Chinese sites they hope may become perfect habitats for the South China Tiger.

And, if all goes will, with intervention from these caring humans, the animal will be trained to survive on its own in the wild.

But the "go-wild" plan for the tigers -- now numbering just 20 to 80 animals in the wild -- is being questioned by some wildlife experts who say that rebuilding their ruined habitat should be given top priority.

Nonetheless, with the support of the international organization, Save China's Tigers, two South China tiger cubs, one female and a male, were sent from the Shanghai Zoo to South Africa on September 1 for training that experts hope will enable them to hunt and live independently in the wild.

A total of five to 10 tigers will be sent to South Africa within the next five years, with the first batch of tigers returning to China at the same time as the Olympic Games, in 2008.

It is expected the trained tigers will live independently in the wild at the chosen habitats, and that self-sustaining South China Tiger clans will soon appear.

The South China Tiger, also called the China Tiger, is a unique species in the nation with the few in the wild supplemented by the 60 or so other tigers of the species living in captivity across the country in zoos or sanctuaries.

Some experts have warned that the tigers will die out altogether by 2010 if no measures are taken.

Both the examination of the two places and the move to send the two cubs to South Africa are part of a project aimed at developing the tiger in the wild.

The two places -- Zixi County in East China's Jiangxi Province and Liuyang in Central China's Hunan Province -- are considered ecologically suitable habitats for South China Tigers, said Lu Jun with the Wildlife Research Centre under the State Forestry Administration.

Lu's centre is responsible for selecting proper habitats for the returning tigers in China.

Lu is one of the five experts, including three from South Africa and two from China, who are studying the two places to see whether local social and economic development can support the project's implementation.

"If local social and economic development isn't good enough, we will continue to study other places,'' Lu said.

In addition to Zixi County and Liuyang, there are seven other candidates, according to Lu.

"Ecologically, Zixi and Liuyang are the best among the nine,'' he added, which quickly moved them to the top of the scientists list.

Although no decision has yet been made, Liuyang authorities are eager to take the job.

According to the Changsha Evening News based in Changsha, capital of Hunan, Liuyang forestry authorities believe the project could help put their city on the map and provide some international fame and lure tourism.

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