China's Big Cats

Apr 24, 2009
*Special to asia!
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Tigers originated in China about two million years ago about the time when the ancestors of human beings, homo erectus, started to walk fully erect on two legs somewhere in North Africa.

For most of their history, tigers did not budge from China. It was only during the last Ice Age (200,000 to 60,000 years ago) that they were forced by diminishing prey to seek better conditions elsewhere.

They went west, via Mongolia and Xinjiang to Central Asia and Turkey, east to Korea, south to the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, southwest via Burma to India and north to Siberia.

A hundred years ago there were 100,000 tigers in Asia. Over hunting has reduced the number to 6,000. DNA studies showed all tigers alive today come from a single ancestor that lived in China perhaps 100,000 years ago.

It was generally accepted that there were eight sub-species of tigers. Three, the Bali Tiger, Java Tiger and Caspian Tiger, died out in the last century. The surviving ones are the Siberian Tiger, the Sumatran Tiger, the Indo-Chinese Tiger, the Bengal Tiger and the South China or Chinese Tiger.

In 2004, scientists discovered the genes of Indo-Chinese tigers have drifted into two different groups. They split it into two sub-species, the North Indochinese Tiger and the Malayan Tiger. The Malayan Tiger subspecies is named Panthera tigris jacksoni in honour of Peter Jackson, a famous tiger conservationist. Interestingly, Jackson is convinced the Chinese Tiger, which Li Quan has been trying to save, is as good as extinct.


lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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