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February 18, 2010

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Work underway to ensure that wild tigers' years are many

AS the Chinese usher in the lunar "Year of the Tiger," animal conservationists are working to save endangered wild tigers by preventing killings and destruction of their natural habitat.

According to Yin Hong, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration, China must intensify its efforts to restore tiger habitats and clamp down on the trade in tiger products.

Yin said the government should spend more on conservation projects and strictly monitor them, while cooperating with international programs to protect tigers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, about 100,000 wild tigers of eight subspecies roamed the Earth.

But during the next seven decades, most of them were slain.

"Tigers were regarded a threat to mankind and property, and people shot tigers in recreational hunting and used the tiger's skin and parts," Yin said.

Worldwide, there are only about 3,200 tigers left in the wild, with 50 to 60 of them in China. And although China is believed to be the birthplace of the tiger, currently only four of the six subspecies exist in China.

The South China tiger and the Siberian tiger are the best-known Chinese tigers. The former is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in the top 10 extremely endangered species.

Over the past decade, several Chinese and foreign teams searched for wild South China tigers in natural habitat, but found no definitive evidence of their existence. Only about 70 South China tigers are in captivity in Chinese zoos.

To stop the killing of tigers, Yin said, China should strive to avoid conflicts between mankind and tigers by improving the animals' habitat and the living standards of residents living near them.

To save the creature from extinction, non-governmental organizations are working hard.

Save China's Tigers, a London-based charitable foundation, is pushing for the establishment of a pilot reserve for captive tigers to be released into. The project, similar to the one in South Africa, is jointly operated by the foundation and the State Forestry Administration.

Currently, four adult South China tigers from Chinese zoos - and their five cubs - are being prepared for life in the wild in a South African reserve.

Li Quan, a founding director of the foundation, said she hoped to see official approval for the establishment of a similar reserve in China this year so she can "send the four tigers back to China in the Year of the Tiger."

A World Wildlife Fund wild Siberian tiger conservation program aims to increase the number of tigers and expand their habitat area by 20 percent, respectively, over the next five years.

The program also hopes to end the trade in tigers and tiger products by 2020 through legislation.

"China and the other 13 countries with tigers should take on the responsibility of preventing the killing and habitat loss of the endangered wild tiger," Yin said.


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