South China Tiger

Written by Matteo Updated Jun. 15, 2021

South China tiger, also named Chinese Tiger or Xiamen Tiger, is native to the forests of central and southern China and peculiar to China. It is one of the smallest tiger subspecies (Sumatra Tiger is the smallest) in the world. The characteristics to recognize the South China tiger are as follows: round head with short ears, powerful limbs, long tail, lots of white fur at the chest and abdomen areas, and a series of black stripes covered on its orange body. At present, South China Tiger is considered almost extinct in the wild and no more than 100 South China tigers are under captive rearing in zoos and research bases.


Male tigers measure about 1.8 m (5.9 ft) from head to tail and weigh about 150-225 kg (330-496 lb). Female tigers are smaller, measuring about 1.6 to 1.7 meters (5.2 to 5.6 ft) long, weighing about 110 kg (240 lbs). The tail is 80 to 100 centimeters (2.6-3.3 ft) long. Based on the researches of Felidae zoologist Mazak, the South China tigers have the least number of stripes among all the subspecies in China. The short and broad stripes of the South China tiger are spaced far apart compared with those of the Bengal Tiger and Siberian Tiger, and diamond-shaped patterns can often be found on the sides of the South China Tiger. The South China Tiger is more primitive than other kinds of tigers, whose ratio of the length and width of the skull are relatively larger with slim body shape and slender waist, making the South China Tiger looks more like the immediate ancestor of all tigers- Panthera palaeosinensis.

Habit and Diet

The South China Tigers mainly live in the upland forests. They live alone and prey at night. They have a highly developed sense of smell, physical agility, and swimming skills. However, they are not good at climbing trees. Just like other subspecies of tigers, South China Tigers prefer to prey on hoofed animals, ranging between 30 and 400 lbs. Male tigers prey on bigger animals, such as Black bears and Sun bears. Generally speaking, in order to survive, a South China Tiger needs 70 square kilometers (27 square miles) of forests where 200 spotted deer, 300 antelopes, and 150 wild boars live.

Distribution Area

The South China Tigers used to widely distributed in the vast areas of eastern, central, southern, and southwestern parts of China and a few places in Shaanxi Province, Longdong (areas in the east of Longshan within Gansu Province), western Henan Province, southern Shanxi Province (literally in the provinces of Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Zhejiang, Hubei, Sichuan, Henan, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Gansu, etc.)

Up till now, there are only over 90 South China Tigers that are under captive rearing in China and there are nine ones under the rewildering project in South Africa, which are female tiger Cathay and her three cubs (Hulooo, JenB, and Coco), male tiger Tiger Woods, female tiger Madonna and her two cubs (King Henry and Princess) and male tiger 327 which came from Suzhou later on. In China, there are only fewer than 90 South China Tigers in captivity, which are distributed in over 10 zoos across the country.

The South China tiger used to be widely distributed in China with a large amount of population. Except for South China, East, southwest, and central China are the main distribution areas of the South China Tigers. And they can also be distributed in some places of Shannan (the south of Shaanxi Province), Longdong (boundary areas of Shanxi, Gansu, and Ningxia provinces), Yuxi (the west of Henan Province), and Jinnan (the south of Shanxi Province) at that time. In the middle of the 20th century, Nanling (Nanling Mountains) area was the central habitation of the South China Tigers, Besides, there are still some in the neighboring provinces like Zhejiang, Hubei, and Sichuan, but not well-distributed. Now, there are probably no more than 25 South China Tigers living in the boundary mountain areas of Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Fujian provinces.

Protection Level

South China Tiger is the most critically endangered tigers of any other subspecies of living tigers. It is estimated that there are 20 to 30 of these tigers live in the wild, and there are about 70 in captivity in 19 zoos in China. It is under the State’s first-class protection. In 1996, South China Tiger was included in the list of the world's 10 most endangered animals by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). In 1981, it was listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

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