The south China tigers, a species native to south region, could be extinct in the wild, experts have warned.
"It's just a matter of time before wild south China tigers die out," said Wang Xingjin, director of the research center of Guangzhou Zoo.
Only 68 south China tigers remained in 18 zoos across China, said zoologist Huang Zhihong. Those are descended from two male and four female tigers caught in the 1950s and 1970s and are all closely related, said Huang.
"If we can't find any wild south China tigers they’ll certainly disappear because of the inbreeding," said Huang.
A scientific expedition initiated by the South China Institute of Endangered Animals to find south China tigers started in October but the chances of success were slim, said Huang. A program to preserve the fiber cells of the tiger is underway to allow the tiger to be cloned using living cells once the technology is proven, said Huang.
The program is being carried out by Guangzhou Zoo and South China Agricultural University.
"Even if the south China tiger becomes extinct there's still hope we will see the tiger again as long as the genes are preserved," said Wang Xingjin.
The south China tiger, from which other sub-species such as the Siberian Tiger evolved, has been listed as one of the world's ten most endangered species.
(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2006)