The South China Tiger

The South China Tiger is known by many names, including the Amoy Tiger, Chinese Tiger and Xiamen Tiger. However, its official scientific name is Panthera tigris amoyensis. This subspecies of tiger is believed by many to be the original species from where all other subspecies came. Currently, this animal is one of the worlds most critically endangered species, with only about two dozen of them left in the world. Many believe that they are completely extinct in the wild already.

Physical Characteristics
The South China Tiger is small in comparison to other Panthera tigris subspecies. Males reach about eight feet or 2.6 metres in length, while females are only about 7.5 feet or 2.3 metres in length. Males weigh approximately 150 kilograms (equivalent to roughly 330 pounds) and tigresses weigh in at about 110 kilograms or 240 pounds.

The stripes of this subspecies are particularly broad, but they are also spaced further apart than in other tigers. This gives the coat a striking, impressive appearance.

South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) in Shanghai Zoo
Photo by J. Patrick Fischer.

Every tiger, as an individual animal, has a unique pattern of stripes. Therefore, scientists that are studying a particular animal may use these to identify their subject(s). This colouring and striped design is ideal for the camouflage needs of the animal.

The earthy tones of the undercoat blend in with the natural reeds, trees and grasses around them, while the black stripes break the appearance of a solid form (in the eyes of potential prey) and help the animal to be hidden in the shades of the trees.

When stalking its prey, the tiger is likely to crouch amongst the long grasses, where they are well hidden, before leaping out on unsuspecting victims.

The South China Tiger occupies Central and Eastern China. Interestingly, this area was once occupied by Bengal Tigers, Siberian Tigers, and Indochinese Tigers too.

But, these ones are no longer found here. Ideally, South China Tigers prefer dense jungles, and enjoy spending time in the water. However, the loss of habitat is a major problem for them.

This tiger is a carnivore, as are all the subspecies. The South China Tiger stalks its prey silently before pouncing on it and breaking its neck with a swift bite. If necessary, it will chase it down first, but always try to execute the kill with as little struggle and pain as possible. Once captured, the prey will be dragged to a sheltered spot in which the tiger can eat it at leisure. If there is not such a place available, the hunter will eat quickly before retreating back to a secluded spot. Incredibly, a South China Tiger can eat between 15 and 40 kilograms of meat in a sitting, depending on its own size, the availability of the meat, and the length of time that it can dedicate to its prey. If they are able to conceal the carcass, they may keep returning to it for the next few days to eat from the supply of food. This is important as the tiger may not make another kill for several days. In places where food is scarce, the tiger will eat almost any other animal. However, common prey includes monkeys, birds, small buck, and so on.

Family Structure and Reproduction
Tigers generally live a life of solitude. They do not live or hunt in packs. After mating, the gestation period is about 103 days (or just over three months). A litter of between one and five cubs is born after this period, but usually only two or three survive into adulthood. At eight weeks, the cubs are able to leave the den and explore their surroundings and, at six months, they begin their training to hunt for their own prey. They should be able to hunt for themselves by 18 months and be fully independent at 24 months.

In the wild, the South China Tiger will live to be about 15 years of age. Their lifespan is about five years longer when in captivity, as they are protected from the elements, fed on a regular basis and treated for any ailments or illnesses.

The South China Tiger is the most endangered of all the tigers. In fact, it is one of the worlds most critically endangered species overall. Hunted and killed as a common pest in the mid-20th century, this is now one of the most valuable living resources that are to be protected and sustained. In addition to having been hunted in near-ridiculous proportions, the availability of natural habitat and prey are also major factors that threaten the existence of the few animals that are still alive.

There are a number of programmes and initiatives around the world that focus on helping this tiger subspecies to live in an environment that promotes population growth, so that its numbers are increased steadily. The aim is to reintroduce these tigers into the wild and to establish healthy populations of them in various suitable areas around the world.