Releasing Captive Tigers

Releasing Tigers - Page 1: Releasing Captive-Bred Species | 2 & 3: Issues Specific To The Tiger |
4 to 9: Xiongsheng Bear & Tiger Entertainment City | 10&11: Tiger Moon Sanctuary

Tiger Moon Sanctuary:

Another recent release claim which has also generated some concern is that of the proposed Tiger Moon Sanctuary in South Africa. The plan involves the introduction of tigers into South Africa. Readers should note that tigers are not naturally found in this part of the world and never have been; this common belief is a myth.

The project has apparently worthwhile goals:

  • To help save the tiger from extinction by breeding independent tigers that can be relocated back into the wild. To eventually restore 100,000 hectares of northern Karoo veld and grasslands damaged over the past 200 years. To restore the bio-diversity of the region and create a viable game reserve.   

Plans for achieving these goals include the following:

    • Assemble a block of land of 14,000 hectares straddling the Orange River on the northern edge of the Karoo.
    • Create a viable breeding stock of tigers and a facility where tiger research can be carried out and where tigers can be seen at close range.

    Follow the Londolozi model:

    • Care of the land, care of wildlife and care of people in the development of the project.
    • Stock the land with a variety of ungulate species and create a wildlife spectacle to attract photographic tourism while at the same time providing food for the tigers.
    • Restore the ecological integrity of land damaged by centuries of over-grazing and over-utilisation of water resources and thereby significantly raise the per hectare land value.
    • Establish a tiger interpretive centre on the Orange River from where boating safaris to see the tigers will commence.
    •  Prepare the way for the return of independent tigers to their indigenous wild habitat in Asia.
    • Set up the infrastructure for Phase II of Tiger Moon which will involve:
    • The purchase of land to increase the size of the reserve to 100,000 hectares.
    • The development of plans for increased income from tourism.
    • Increasing the bio-diversity of the sanctuary with the purchase of cheetah, rhinoceros, hippo and giraffe, and the acquisition of more tigers to create a good stock of cats for breeding.
    The cubs:

    At present the project is based around two Bengal tigers which are being assessed for translocation suitability.

    Taken as cubs from privately-owned Bowmanville Zoo in Canada, the pair have been living in South Africa and are now 18 months old. Time has been spent training them to electric fences and further effort will be spent in teaching them to avoid Land Rovers and buildings.

    The juveniles initial release will be into an area of about 2,000 square kilometres where they will stay for a further two years. During this time the female should come into oestrus with the stated intention being to use artificial insemination on her.

    In tigers this procedure has, to date, not been very successful. Admittedly, it is not that widely practiced, but where it has been done pregnancy rates have been very low.

Captive tigers breed quite freely and hormonal contraception is often used on them to prevent over population. Why it should be needed in the case of Tiger Moon Sanctuary is unclear, but it has been carried out quite successfully on the smaller cats.

It is with the chosen cubs that the first criticisms are raised by experts:

Expert Comment: The Bengal tigers held in the Karoo are not purebred and should not be used for breeding.

Answer From Tiger Moon: Ron Witfield, world renowned as having the best breeding line of Bengal tigers in the world, was responsible for the breeding of the Karoo pair of tigers. Their genealogy can be traced back through many generations.

Tiger Territory Note: As the article on Tara shows (following pages), genetic pollution is a very real threat and some wild Bengal tigers have already been affected by it. The Indian government spends approximately US$75 million a year to provide protection for its tigers; included in this is the aim of ensuring genetic purity. Government officials and experts are unlikely to want to risk further genetic pollution. Unless the tigers used in this programme can be traced right back to their wild ancestors, it seems unlikely permission to release them would be easily given. If they could be traced back to the wild they would be listed in the Bengal tiger studbook and already involved in a breeding programme. Many, many tigers in the world's zoos are genetically impure and there is no reason to suspect these two are not among them.

South African tiger release:

Expert Comment: The Karoo is unsuitable for tigers.

Answer From Tiger Moon: The tiger is a very resilient animal. It hunts in the snow in Siberia. It survived in the Caspian desert along riverbeds where it hunted for wild pigs. It hunts in swamps, dry deciduous forests, tall grass savannahs, in dry riverbeds and gorges. Tigers are very similar to leopards in their hunting technique. They do need cover to hunt and they need a large prey-species base as they require, when fully grown, about 5--6 kg of meat a day, equivalent to one 200 kg ungulate every few weeks. The 100,000 hectare Karoo block of land would be able to support sufficient prey species to provide food for a number of tigers. This is being studied by Dave Salmoni [a Canadian from the Bowmanville Zoo near Toronto] and will form part of his Masters degree. The dense thickets and the deep gorges near the Orange River provide more than adequate cover for the tigers to hunt.

Tiger Territory Note: It has been repeatedly proven during other release programmes that animals find it much easier to become established within their usual home ranges. The rate of failure for animals returned to areas other than their indigenous habitats is a great deal higher.

It must be acknowledged that the tiger's normal range is severely fragmented and tigers do live successfully in many parts of the world within captivity. However, it seems very odd to reduce the chances of success by basing the project within South Africa rather than an Asian country.

Is another programme required?

Expert Comment: There are about 1,000 tigers in scientific breeding programmes outside Asia. Many more thousands of tigers exist in zoos, circuses, private collections etc. Therefore there is no need for the creation of another tiger population in Africa.

Answer From Tiger Moon: We do not aim to breed tigers behind bars, we plan to breed them in the wild. The Tiger Moon Sanctuary aims to take tigers back into the wild in sufficient numbers to turn around the declining populations of tigers in Asia. No other programme, to our knowledge, has such ambitious plans. The project should be seen as a parallel conservation effort to that done in Asia and that done in captivity. It is our aim to work closely with tiger conservationists in Asia and elsewhere. 

Tiger Territory Note: The intention to use artificial insemination would seem to make this a captive breeding programme, not a wild one, as it requires fairly invasive and repeated interference, more so than most zoos need to practice.

(Continued Page 11)

Releasing Tigers - Page 1: Releasing Captive-Bred Species | 2 & 3: Issues Specific To The Tiger |
4 to 9: Xiongsheng Bear & Tiger Entertainment City | 10&11: Tiger Moon Sanctuary

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