EXCLUSIVE New tiger cubs give hope to save their species
Facing the cameras may be one big yawn for these tiger cubs - but then they don't realise they may be the future of their species.
The two little fellas are South China tigers, the most endangered of all.
Their numbers have fallen from 4,000 in the early 1950s to fewer than 100 today - and most of them are in zoos, with perhaps just 10 in the wild. It's only through a unique breeding programme that the animals stand a chance of surviving extinction.
Save China's Tigers, launched in London in 2000, aims to repopulate the wild with animals reared in captivity. Already 250 sq km of southern China has been earmarked for reserves.
It's hoped these two cubs - pictured with their eyes open but still blind - will be the first to be reintroduced.
They were born last week a long way from China, on the programme's breeding reserve in South Africa. The aim is to let their mother raise them before they are trained with the skills they will need in the wild and sent to China.
Li Quan, a British-based fashion executive turned conservationist who set up Save China's Tigers with husband Stuart Bray, said: "Breeding has been tried in Chinese zoos, with no success. So we came to South Africa, the leader in hands-on conservation projects."
They shipped out four tiger cubs from China. Last November one of the females, Cathay, gave birth to the first South China tiger cub born outside Asia, Junior. But he was rejected by his mother and had to be hand-reared, making him unsuitable for reintroduction.
It was a bitter blow - but now Cathay has given birth to her second litter, with the same father, TigerWoods - and the second female, Madonna, is also expecting.
Li Quan said: "We can't believe our luck. It's vindication of everything we've worked for. We hope to start returning tigers to the wild in the next two years." Li Quan, 45, once a high-flying executive with pharmaceutical companies in the US and Europe, has no regrets about turning her back on the beauty business.
"To be truthful, it doesn't care much about the natural world," she said. "I've always loved cats - and tigers are the biggest cats of all.
"I pray that, thanks to the efforts of many worldwide, the roar of the tiger will be heard in the wild for generations to come."
Tigers originated in China two million years ago and gradually expanded their territory from Siberia to Turkey. There are only five remaining subspecies of tiger left - a century ago there were eight.
For info, visit www.savechinastigers.org
For The Tiger
Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around