Protecting Big Cats from Big Development
No cats (other than the cool cat, Howie) in this video. When we learned that a big developer was planning to build townhomes right up to our fence, we began trying to work with them to come up with a plan that would protect the cats, but they become unresponsive after our meeting four months ago, so we went to the zoning hearing to make sure that our concerns were heard by the zoning master.
Commercial Development Makes for Better Neighbors
For All the Ignorant People Who Insisted that Tigers were being Saved by Save China’s Tigers
Bloomberg December 17, 2013
Ex-Banker’s Wife Says Tiger Charity Funds Spent on Wine, Meals
A former Deutsche Bank executive’s wife said he used their animal conservation charity to hide assets while she spent the group’s money on furniture and expensive meals.
Stuart Bray and his wife, Li Quan, are fighting over about 50 million pounds ($81 million) of assets held by Save China’s Tigers, which they founded in 2000, in their divorce case in London.
The former banker used a trust connected to the charity as “shelter” for their personal wealth, Li said at a hearing in the case this morning. Bray, who left the German lender in 2001, said outside court that “what she is now saying is untrue.” Lawyers representing the charity declined to comment.
Court rulings favoring less wealthy partners led a UK appeals court to call London the “divorce capital of the world for aspiring wives” in 2007. Oil trader Michael Prest, accused by his ex-wife of hiding assets in offshore companies, is facing jail after the UK’s Supreme Court ruled against him in June.
Li’s evidence suggested she and Bray were defrauding the charity “on a grand and big scale,” Judge Paul Coleridge said to her at the hearing. “It was incredibly dishonest.” Li said she had tried to ensure donations were spent on charitable projects, and the couple had used trusts to store their own assets. “I bought furniture,” she said. “We had expensive dinners. We had expensive wines.”
She denied committing fraud and said she had no detailed knowledge of the organization’s financial affairs. “I intensely hope to continue my work” with tigers, she said.
Save China’s Tigers, which counted actor Jackie Chan as an ambassador, planned to establish nature reserves in China for tigers bred in captivity in Africa.
Bray joined Deutsche Bank when it bought his unit of Bankers Trust Corp. in 1999. He worked as co-head of a department that dealt with client tax transactions before leaving in 2001, according to a 2009 preliminary ruling in his libel case against the lender.
Bray sued the Frankfurt-based lender in 2007 after it made public statements about losses resulting from a US tax probe into his former unit. There is no record of a verdict in the case in an online database of UK court judgments. Kathryn Hanes, a spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Li told the court Bray had used a settlement with Deutsche Bank to help fund their charity. Her lawyers declined to comment outside court.
China might be better off trying to save the four subspecies of tiger that remain in the country, rather than reintroduce the South China tiger, argues the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
The Laohu Valley Reserve sits on a rolling plain about 200 kilometers from Bloemfontein, South Africa’s judicial capital. In September 2003, two South China tigers were sent to the reserve from a Chinese zoo. What began as an effort to save the species from the brink of extinction evolved into a “rewilding” training project, the goal of which is to release the big cats back into their natural habitat.
There are 15 South China tigers now living in Laohu Valley. Tiger supervisor Vivienne McKenzie said that nine of them are already capable hunters.
The South China tiger is exclusive to China and believed to be extinct in the wild. There are only about 100 in the world outside of Laohu Valley, all of which live in Chinese zoos.
The original plan was to get those tigers trained in South Africa to come back China in 2008, but the SFA has been unable to find a place to free the rewilded tigers.
Cathay and Tiger Woods
The idea to send the tigers to South Africa originated with Li Quan, a former fashion executive from Beijing. In 1999 she spent time observing the successes of wildlife reserves and ecological tourism in Africa. A year later, Li and her husband, Stuart Bray, founded the Save China’s Tigers Foundation in Britain.
In May 2002, the foundation purchased 30,000 hectares of land in South Africa as a base for rewilding South China tigers. Later, the Chinese Tigers South African Trust was established to serve as the executive organization for the rewilding project and to raise funds.
In September 2003, two tiger cubs – Cathay and Hope – arrived in South Africa, making them the first South China tigers on the African continent. A year later cubs named Tiger Woods and Madonna were flown to the reserve. Then in 2007 an adult tiger – “No. 327” – was sent from a zoo in Suzhou, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, to Laohu Valley to start the breeding program.
Raising a tiger is hard, but teaching it to live in the wild is even harder. Over the next decade, more tigers were bred from the first arrivals. But over that time No. 327 died in a fight and the tiger named Hope also died. Later, three more cubs died.
From 2003 to 2004 members of the foundation and the wildlife center brought together Chinese and international experts to evaluate seven candidate sites around the country. In January 2004, experts from China and South Africa suggested after field studies that it was feasible to reintroduce the tigers into conservation areas.
Eventually Zixi County, in the eastern province of Jiangxi, and Liuyang City, in the central province of Hunan, were picked. (“City” here is a level of government, and such places in China often contain large rural areas.) Those two areas, experts said, not only satisfied the requirements of the tigers for habitation and breeding in the wild, but also had good prospects for environmental tourism.
But reintroducing the tigers to the areas has been much more difficult than anticipated. The relocation of the human populations of those areas — both in excess of 1,000 — would require approval from the State Council, the country’s cabinet. Changing the zoning status of the land within those regions, currently zoned as agricultural, would require approval from the Ministry of Land and Resources. In the end, the animals did not move.
The SFA again organised a panel to choose a site in China in 2010, and three sites were picked: Wufeng Houhe natural reserve zone, in the central province of Hubei; Matou Mountain, again in Jiangxi’s Zixi County; and Huping Mountain, Shimen County, in the central province of Hunan. The document also suggested that the Meihuashan South China tiger breeding centre in Fujian, in the east, could be expanded for rewilding and population rejuvenation.
Three years later, the central government still has not signed off on the three sites. The reason for the delay is unclear, but if officials do finally give their permission, another three to five years will be needed to prepare the sites.
Even if fees paid to experts and the costs of relocating human populations are excluded, preparing a suitable habitat is expensive. Brad Nilson, who advises an investment company under the trust for the Laohu Valley Reserve, said the organisation has budgeted 180 million yuan for the preparation of a tiger reintroduction zone.
Lu Jun, director of the SFA’s wildlife research centre, said the majority of the tiger’s former habitat is regions that have been highly developed.
“Restoring a suitable habitat for the survival of the South China tiger is not something you can do just by talking about it,” Lu said. “It’s already a much more complicated proposition than originally anticipated, so progress on the project is proceeding much more slowly than originally anticipated.”
Lu said that renovations to the Meihuashan breeding centre will be complete in early 2014, and it will be a rewilding training and population rejuvenation centre based on the Laohu Valley model.
“[Meihuashan] already has the basic conditions required for return of the tigers,” Lu said. “The South China tigers that come back from South Africa will be given appropriate training in Meihuashan.”
The right tiger?
Yet there were doubts about the viability of the programme from the beginning. In the spring of 2003 a group of cat specialists and wildlife conservations under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) expressed reservations about the foundation’s plans to rewild tigers in South Africa.
The group said that experience has proven that all reintroduction projects are risky, and the animals’ familiarity with their habitat and local game stocks are important factors behind population restoration. In addition, the degree of inbreeding in domestically raised South China tigers is exceptionally high, meaning there was only limited hope for the survival of a sustainable, diverse wild population.
Lu said in November that the effort to save the tigers “has already far exceeded the scope for saving any species, and won’t be a simple matter of relying on science and technology alone.”
The director of the World Wildlife Fund’s China Species Program, Fan Zhiyong, also had doubts. Historically, a single South China tiger could range over 50 square kilometres, but that area will be difficult to find in southern China now. Fan also said that Africa’s game populations are dense, but China’s no longer were.
This naturally raises questions as to whether the foundation will ever find the space and food in China for the tigers to thrive again.
Another point of contention is whether the genetic makeup of South China tigers rewilded in South Africa is pure. Xie Yan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology, says the significance of saving the South China tiger lies in saving its genes.
“But when we test individual South China tigers that have been recently born, their genes do not truly represent the subspecies. A lot of genetic material from the Indochinese tiger has gotten mixed in. So the genetic significance of breeding these individuals to preserve the distinctive heredity of the South China tiger is another question mark.”
Some at the IUCN say China might be better off trying to save the four subspecies of tiger that remain in the country. Xie said the Amur tiger – also known as the Siberian – that is native to northeastern China and Siberia is not extinct in the wild. The wild population still had healthy numbers, she said, meaning there is time to build conservation areas on the Sino-Russian border.
This is an edited version of an article that was first published by Caixin
China Profits on Stuffed Tigers
The trade in rare stuffed animals – including tiger parts – has been allowed to flourish in China in recent years
Ambiguous forestry authority policies have fostered a profitable trade in rare animal specimens, while the number of examples in museums is dwindling (Image by EIA)
A wolf roars in mid-pounce. The head of a wild boar stares blankly from the wall. Two tigers face off. And everyone is aware of the elephant in the room, waiting to have its tusks fitted.
Welcome to the “legal” animal specimen market.
Zhang Zhaoguo, boss of a State Forestry Administration-certified taxidermy firm, provides rich collectors with reliable and high quality services: his offerings of stuffed rare or endangered species are all legally-certified. “Rest easy,” he says. “As long as the item comes with a certificate, you can buy and sell it legally within China.”
Once used for science and education, stuffed animal specimens are now bought and sold for huge profits. “The South China tiger is small, so they might not look quite so good,” Zhang told a Southern Weekend reporter masquerading as a potential customer.
He has a range of different types: “This is a Bengal tiger, more or less the same price,” he says, pointing at another sample. “If you want something for luck, a white tiger is good. Like the green dragon and white tiger in Daoism.”
On the phone the head of his company’s Shanghai office pushed other products: “We can also do elephants, they ward off evil. They’re the biggest land animal, if you’re interested I can take you to see one.”
And there are other companies almost openly peddling stuffed tigers to private collectors. In provinces such as Fujian and Anhui the majority of licensed taxidermists said they could do so, with only one refusing.
This tallies with the findings of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a UK independent environmental organisation. From May 2012 to January 2013 the EIA carried out studies of the trade in tiger skins in China.
The EIA found that the Xiafeng Arts Specimen Factory in Chaohu, Anhui, was making luxury rugs out of tiger skins listed for use as specimens. An animal rescue centre in Beidaihe, Hebei, was selling large numbers of tiger skins intended for research and education to rich collectors. In the first half of 2012 it sold 5 – all as rugs, and all with government certification.
These specimens, originally intended for research or education, have created a huge and profitable market.
According to insiders a Siberian tiger can be bought from a zoo for 50,000 or 60,000 yuan, but its skin goes on the black market for 350,000 to 600,000 yuan. A corpse of the rare South China tiger would cost something under 600,000 yuan, but sell for 3 million yuan as a finished product.
There have long been question marks over the role of zoos, the main legal source of animals for taxidermists, in this grey trade. “Zoos are the most important part of the chain,” said the head of one taxidermy firm, asking to remain nameless.
Chinese law rules that organisations such as zoos and circuses can buy and sell certain quantities of wild animals, at government-set prices. But “except in extraordinary circumstances”, zoos bear no responsibility for the death of an animal – they just have to report the time and an approximate cause of death.
“Natural death and loss” have therefore become common events in Chinese zoos. “The official price for a live tiger is sometimes less than 20,000 or 30,000 yuan. If you can have it die a “natural death”, you can make a lot more money,” explained the same source.
And there’s no shortage of business for the taxidermists. Businesspeople and government officials are the purchasers and collectors – products are often given as gifts between the two groups. “It’s a sign of status and quality, and it’s easier to accept than cash,” said the same source. Purchases are often made due to animals appearing in Chinese idioms – there is one about the ferocity of tigers, while the Chinese word for deer is homophonous with part of an idiom about getting rich. And monkeys and elephants, the kings of the animal kingdom, are also popular.
“Specimens with the certificate, and in particular rare or endangered animals, are still mainly used for education and research. We don’t encourage private collections. For protected animals we’ve always advocated museum collection.” An animal conservation employee with the Fujian forestry authorities explained the government stance.
But he refused to state whether private sales were illegal, only repeating that this was “not encouraged.”
Many industry insiders say that this ambiguity has allowed the trade to flourish in recent years. For a time after signing up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), China clamped down on the trade in tiger products, with a full ban on the trade in tiger bones instituted in 1993. But in 2003 the State Forestry Administration and the State Administration of Industry and Commerce announced trials in which the trade of certified rare animal products would be permitted – again, the tigers were at risk.
The rules allowed legal tiger breeding centres to register tiger corpses with the SFA. Licensed firms could then apply to purchase those skins. Once stuffed or processed into rugs, the license holder could then submit documents and photographs to the SFA in order to obtain a certificate for the item, allowing it to be sold or transferred within China.
“We asked the SFA, and they said specimens could only be used for science and education,” said Vicky Lee of the EIA. “But look at what’s actually being made and you can see it’s intended for decoration.”
At Zhang Zhaoguo’s factory, the products are displayed like artworks – two stuffed tiger cubs are even placed on a mock mountain. “We’ve sent them [the SFA] photographs,” said Zhang. If that is so, then the authorities are well aware of how the products are used. “Overseas, rare captive animals are not normally stuffed,” explained
Debbie Banks, tiger campaigner for EIA. “And when they are it is only for scientific or educational institutions. But in China the SFA permits the companies to make and sell them for profit.” This goes against the international norm of use only for science and education.
And the certificates themselves are a problem. The only way to match up a certificate and the item it belongs to is the photograph: the taxidermists will photograph the product and send that image to the SFA, who add it to a laminated and stamped certificate.
But the photographs on the certificates are no larger than a fingernail – nowhere near large enough to identify any particular tiger skin. This means the certificate could be used for other skins.
“That has been reported,” said Meng Zhibin, director of the office of the Endangered Species Scientific Commission. He has heard of sellers asking buyers if they need the certificate – if not, they get a discount, and the certificate can be reused. “Unfortunately the authorities haven’t been able to find the staff or funding to supervise this.”
The SFA did not respond to requests for an interview.
“They’ve already lost their original meaning,” complains Tang Zhaohe, a fourth-generation taxidermist who works at Fujian Normal University’s natural history collection. “It’s about preserving rare animals, not decorations to look good.” Tang’s family was once highly influential in the study of China’s natural history. But they are saddened by the way the craft has developed. “Beasts and birds of prey, beautiful birds, they’re making ornaments, not specimens,” said Tang Jian, a fifth-generation member of the family and head of Wuhan University’s natural history collection.
“The taxidermists only want big beautiful birds, not small ones,” said Tang Zhaohe. “And the new museums only want big beautiful specimens too.”
But that importance of preserving these samples isn’t in their looks – he once collected examples of six birds from Wuyi Mountain, all smaller than a sparrow, and all ugly.
Worse, while the collectors’ market is flourishing, the university collections intended for science and research are in trouble.
Wuhan University provides one example: the earliest of China’s collections of animal samples, prior to 1998 it was the country’s biggest and best. But now they struggle to even preserve the specimens they have. “They need constant temperature and humidity, but we can’t even afford formalin and formaldehyde for preservation,” complained Tang Jian. “And we have to count the pennies to pay the power and water bills.”
This article was originally published in the Southern Weekend on August 22. Lu Minghe is a Southern Weekend reporter.