Rewilding The Tiger
Stuart Bray brawls with everyone, including his wife, to save the South China tiger from extinction. The South China Tiger belongs to one of the most critically endangered species on earth, one that the World Wildlife Fund considers ‘functionally extinct’. None are believed to remain in the wild; perhaps 100 exist in captivity. Bray currently has 19 of them on 74,000 acres. The reserves intention is to rewild the tigers, help them learn how to hunt and breed, and then return them to the forests of southeastern China. It's an extraordinary task and one clearly not without risks. … read more
A 4-year-old male, called 327, arrived on the reserve in 2007. He was used to live in zoos and never got comfortable in nature. Finally, 327 found his mojo by mating with one of the females; then, pumped up with macho pride, he picked a fight with another male and lost. His skeleton is now mounted in a glass case in the reserve lodge
When it comes rewilding there was no text book on how to achieve this with a tiger. Hardly anyone had attempted it before. The first time they put a live chicken in the enclosure, two cubs chased it around for a while until the bird got tired. “Once the chicken turned around and stared at them, they just stopped.” Being faced down by poultry was a humiliating start to life in the wild for the two young tigers. The team mixed chicken meat into zoo food to get the cats used to the taste, then introduced plucked carcasses, then dead birds with feathers on. Eventually two tigers overcame their first live chicken. Now they hunt blesbok and springbok, however they’re still learning and a 20th tiger died recently after an injury sustained whilst bringing down a blesbok.
Two Chinese officials, Lu and Zhang have flown in from the State Forestry Administration in Beijing to talk about bringing the tigers home. The argument over the tigers’ fate, and who will pay for it, continues as a South China Tiger carries a springbok into the South African bush at the Laohu Valley Reserve unaware that it’s fate hangs in the balance. Probably more than any other person on the planet, Bray is responsible for whether the South China Tiger survives or becomes extinct, a notion he finds as surprising as anyone else.view gallery