Even in zoos there are only a few dozen animals identified as members
of the South China subspecies (all in China), and the ancestry of
all these animals remains to be proven pure. In addition, neither
formalized studbooks nor breeding programs have been established
to preserve the genetic viability of these animals.
The dire circumstances in which this subspecies finds itself is
particularly unfortunate, since only 40 years ago the South China
tiger was believed to be one of the most abundant surviving subspecies,
represented by an estimated 4000 individuals in the wild. Regretfully,
the government of China declared them to be pests, and they were
hunted without restriction. Cash bounties were often paid in return
for a dead South China tiger.
Despite its rarity, efforts continue to detect and monitor this
subspecies. In addition, important contacts have been made with
the zoos in China that hold captive specimens, with plans to involve
genetically pure cats in a dedicated program of conservation breeding.
Given the small number that survives, we can only buy them time.
The only way to preserve the remaining South China tiger gene pool
appears to be by interbreeding it with that of other similar tigers
such as the Indo-Chinese race. A Sino-UK team is proposing to do
just that in the coming years.
Tragically, the South China tiger, as it is currently defined, appears
doomed to extinction, if it isn't already.