South Africa to breed Bengal tigers
South Africa has become the new home of the endangered Bengal tiger, one of the most majestic cats on earth.
Two breeding projects have been started, within months of each other, by the Cango Wildlife Ranch outside Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo and in Mpumalanga by film-maker John Varty.
Two white Bengal tigers were brought to the Cango ranch late last year. Cher and Khan are captive bred cubs from the national zoo in Nashville, Tennessee.
Ranch manager Rob Hall said they were hoping the tigers would start breeding by the age of four.
He said there were only about 5 000 to 7 000 tigers left in the world. Only 150 of the white strain of Bengal tigers have survived and they are all in captivity.
The last wild white Bengal was spotted in Rewa, India, in 1951.
Two other Bengal tiger cubs from the Bowmanville Zoological Park in Canada are on loan to Varty for the next three years. He and his brother, Dave, aim to use them in a pilot breeding project for a new endangered species park.
But Gus Mills, Kruger National Park specialist scientist and head of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group, said he did not agree that these projects were important for conservation.
Mills said there were already many Bengal tigers in captivity and quite a few in the wild.
"The Bengal's biggest threat is poaching and habitat destruction, not a diminished gene pool. If they want to help, they should put money into existing tiger conservation projects, not start new breeding ones."
Of the eight original sub-species of tigers, three have become extinct in the last 60 years - the Bali tiger in the 1930s, the Caspian tiger in the 1970s and the Javan tiger in the 80s.
Today, only the Bengal, Indo-Chinese, Siberian, South China, and Sumatran tigers remain.