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Life's Three Little Bundles of Joy for Rare Zoo Ttigers
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Although it is an endangered species, the South China Tiger enjoys a booming family life in the Shanghai Zoo.

Triplets were born 16 days ago and another tiger is expected to give birth next month.

Shanghai Zoo has 17 of the 56 South China Tigers in the 12 domestic zoos.

"Originating in the country's south and east, the endangered species is exclusively found in China," said Yuan Yaohua, in charge of the zoo's carnivores.

"Although it is said that we have about another 20 in the wild, no one has ever seen them."

The National Zoo Association called an annual conference of the 12 zoos with South China Tigers in 1994, in response to predictions the species would disappear in 20 years.

"They were reasonable, because before the conference, we had no change of tigers between the zoos, which could lead to inbreeding and then to extinction," said Xiong Chengpei, the Shanghai Zoo's director.

The newborn triplets resulted from the conference - the father Shui Shui came from Henan Province's Luoyang Zoo, in exchange for a Shanghai male tiger who had produced no offspring here. Their mother, Xiao Hu, was from the Shanghai Zoo, and the productive mum had given birth to another six.

According to Yuan, one of the triplets might be sent back to the Luoyang Zoo after weaning.

Shanghai Zoo has had two to four newborn South China Tiger cubs every year since 1999.

But the costs trouble Xiong and his colleagues, even though they have decided to develop the Shanghai Zoo into a base for expanding the species.

"On average, a South China Tiger costs about 50,000 yuan (US$6,024) a year, which is not a small sum," said Xiong.

The zoo's annual expenditure is 40 million yuan, against revenue of about 30 million yuan.

The government funds it 10 million yuan a year.

"We give priority to the South China Tigers, but we will feel the pinch in two years, when the number becomes 25," said Xiong, indicating no extra government money would be available.

"The hotel Shanghai JC Mandarin began to donate 20,000 to 50,000 yuan annually 5 years ago, but in the last year the SARS outbreak almost exhausted every local hotel."

Xiong said the zoo is looking for more community help.

(Xinhua News Agency March 5, 2004)

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