Sunday, October 16, 2011

Environmentalists and investors draw claws over plan

Next generation ... $30 million has been ploughed into helping secure the future of the endangered South China tiger. Photo: courtesy Li Quan

Ben Cubby
October 17, 2011.

A BOLD plan to shield the South China tiger from extinction has become a battleground between environment groups and so-called ''angel investors'', who have plunged $30 million in cash into the big cats' future.

Li Quan, a former executive at fashion label Gucci, and her financier husband Stuart Bray, have been working for 13 years to rebuild a sustainable tiger population. Perhaps fewer than 20 South China tigers are thought to still inhabit remote and mountainous regions of China's south. They are likely to be extinct in the wild within a decade.

The couple have sunk a fortune into a breeding program for cubs in South Africa, and are now ready to start sending them to China for release.

The Save China's Tigers program has just been recognised as a charity in Australia. But it has been criticised by some environment groups, including the international arm of WWF. The battle highlights the critical choices behind many conservation decisions

In a letter seen by the Herald, WWF said the program is misguided, and the $30 million in funding would be more wisely deployed elsewhere. Others have publicly described the plan as a ''vanity project''.

''Yes of course I have heard this term 'vanity project','' Ms Quan said. ''The criticisms have been coming for many years now, but we are doing the right thing for the animals, we are sure of that.''

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