Showing China's tigers a mother's love

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am


Forget Amy Chua, Beijing native and former fashion executive Li Quan may have the best claim to the title of 'tiger mum'.

The Save China's Tigers founder certainly displayed a mother's concern while in Hong Kong last week to meet potential donors for the charity she started in 2000. 'These tigers are like my little kids who need care and protection so they may grow up healthy and strong and produce their own offspring,' said Quan, 49.

Wearing a tiger-shaped pendant embellished with Swavorski crystals and a colourful tiger-print dress, Quan's love for the big cats has not faded over the past decade since she started an ambitious campaign to breed South China tigers in South Africa and reintroduce them to nature reserves on the mainland.

A key part of this plan was relocating captive South China tigers from mainland zoos to a South African game reserve that Quan established with financial help from her investment banker husband Stuart Bray.

The charity has spent US$25 million so far in its conservation efforts for the near-extinct South China tiger. There are currently an estimated 100 South China tigers in captivity.

Tigers undergo extensive 're-wilding' on the reserve, including teaching their offspring how to hunt.

Since 2003, three adult tigers have been transported to the Laohu Valley Reserve (laohu means 'tiger' in Putonghua). Eight cubs - two males, six females - have been born, the most recent in July.

Quan said they were not able to make a 2008 deadline to return a tiger back to China and also missed a 2010 deadline. The next deadline is 2013, dependant on funding to create a transition site in Meihuashan, Fujian province.

'We want to have a site that mimics what we're doing in South Africa so we can test the re-adaptation process,' she said. 'The tigers are able to hunt very well in South Africa, but we have to see if they can hunt in China.'

Since embarking on her project, Quan, who has no formal conservation background, has come under fire from leading conservationist groups, such as the WWF, who say her plan is neither viable nor suitable.

'I never expected that conservation would have more complex politics than the fashion industry,' she said. 'It has been very difficult to raise money because of the opposition.'

The criticism has not diminished Quan's determination or hindered the financial support from her husband, who continues to provide the bulk of the money for the project.

'There's a Chinese saying that good projects are always full of obstacles so obviously you have to be very bullish,' Quan said. 'Nature gave us such a perfect animal and I don't want to lose them.

'I don't have children. I purposely chose not to have them because I grew up in China and realised very early on there are too many people on this planet, but I want the children of the future to appreciate tigers.'