Li Quan: Unbreakable
Relationship with Tigers
Seventeen years ago, Li
Quan, a young woman who had just graduated from Beijing University, luckily
stepped on the way to studying abroad. During the days before setting out, what
troubled her most was how to take her beloved kitten with her.
years later, Li Quan keeps on taking her beloved “cats” to foreign
countries. But this time they turn out to be “big cats”-Chinese tigers and
the transportation has been upgraded from airplanes to the Internet.
cats and tigers both belong to the cat family. Then what on earth is the special
relationship between them and Li Quan, a successful Chinese lady who has has
been living abroad for many years, who can speak seven languages and holds an
the opportunity of Madame Li Quan’s on-line hosting at CCTV.com
on the evening of July 4th, we succeeded in unveiling the mystery.
loved cats when she was young and 'fought' against her parents to the end
Li Quan was born
in a military family in Beijing. She has loved cats and all the animals in the
cat family since she was a little girl. She loves their beauty expressed through
uniformity and contrast: silky coats and suave curves form a beautiful shape; Power
and speed are the expressions of bravery and tenacity; Indolence and laziness
are contrasted by explosive strength -What a perfect combination.
parents didn’t allow Li to raise cats when she was a child. Whenever she
brought home a cat, her parents would send it away in less than half a month. In
her parents’ eyes, cats were dirty. But
Li Quan who knew cats’ nature very well says that actually cats are most
particular about hygiene. Even minor nastiness will make them
As it was
impossible to persuade her parents, the intractable Li Quan started the fight in
her own particular way: whenever a cat was sent away, she would soon bring home
another, again and again.
growing up passed with the time spent “fighting”. When it was time to take
the Entrance Exam to University, Li Quan found out that there was no such
discipline as wildlife to choose from. So four years in university, Li Quan
majored in English and her second major was social anthropology.
years that followed, Li Quan chose to study abroad and then read for her MBA.
After receiving her degree in the USA, Li entered into the fashion industry and
went to work in Italy. She obtained
an enviably high-paid position---- once working for the world famous Gucci
company, responsible for its worldwide licensing business. It is rather
difficult for even native Italians to obtain such an important position in
Italy, but Li Quan, a lady from foreign land, got it with ease.
Just as Li
Quan walked towards the commonly perceived success step by step, a love started
long time ago, however, was buried little by little in her busy life.
to South Africa only to look for leopards
You may say
that the reason Li Quan initially entered into the fashion world was to answer
the call of beauty. Just as her love for domestic cats and all other cat species
in those years, she was also filled with admiration for the beauty of their
unity of opposites. However, after
uncovering the surface and looking into the nature, Li found that the beauty of
fashion is far different from the natural beauty of animals. Seven years had
passed, she grew tired of her fashion life. Moreover,
her work was put into good order from bad order. She
could not find any difficult challenges.
the restless Li Quan made a surprising decision.
She gave up
her successful career in Italy and moved to London. There she joined the man who
was to become her husband with whom she had been in love for many years.
Quan had enough time to re-examine what she liked. She
went to South Africa on her own in
1998, looking for leopard---another kind of cat.
the first time that Li Quan stepped onto the land of Africa. During her course
of several journeys deep in the hinterland of South Africa, Li accidentally
discovered a brand new model of wildlife conservation created by the local
people. They used a leopard as flag to promote
eco-tourism of the whole ecological chain. Tourism
and the resulting related services provide the local residents with job
opportunities and brought considerable economic benefits.
With assurance of livelihood, the environment and eco-tourism get further
Li Quan who
had studied management and business immediately thought of her own country. If
this model is brought to China, what huge positive impact there will be!
At the same
time, Li Quan got to know that the 8 subspecies of tigers including the 5
remaining ones are all derived from South China Tigers. South China Tigers are
also the only subspecies found only in China at the present time. However, very
few people know that tigers originated in China .
foreigners don’t know that there are tigers in China, if they don’t even
know that tigers originated China, then how can China gain more people’s
understanding and support for the huge amount of work they have been doing to
save tigers and other wildlife? Why
not bring the Chinese tiger to the level of Chinese culture to raise awareness?
adventurous idea formed.
Tigers is Talking Action
Li Quan returned
to China in the summer of 1999 to make her first contact with the concerned
people of the related departments of the government. She talked about her
proposal. However, their warm
reaction was betrayed by a bit of suspicion..
been many people calling to offer help, but all ended in silence……”
Li Quan saw doubt
in their eyes. She didn’t say anything and
took out her own savings of over hundred thousand pounds.
Li Quan reckons
that saving china’s tigers is not only a matter of saving nature, but also
saving our culture and the spirits of our nation. Saving the South China Tigers
is highly controversial. The estimated number of wild South China Tigers is only
between 10 to 30. But if we don’t
make any effort, South China Tigers are sure to go extinct irredeemably.
In 2000, under
the approval of the relavant department of the UK government, an organization
called “Save China’s Tigers” was set up officially. This is the first
charitable organization ever founded in the world especially for the protection
of china’s tigers and other big cats in China. Meanwhile the website—www.savechinastigers.org
is opened on the Internet to raise awareness in the world regarding the
importance of protecting South China Tigers, and to look for support and
cooperation from all over the world. The
funding, on the one hand, is used to sponsor surveys of the wild Chinese tigers
in order to protect their habitats; and on the other, is used in the tentative
rehabilitation training for tigers raised in zoos so as to regain their skills
for survival in the wild. In last 3 years, Li’s footprints can be found almost
in all the South China tiger reserves in China.
Li Quan quit her
job to devote herself to the cause of saving South China Tigers. It is for this
goal that she travels around the world. There are so many subspecies of tigers
in China, why does she talk about the South China Tigers only? Why even make the
South China Tiger China’s Tigers? Let’s take a look why Li Quan is so in
love with the South China tigers. China is the country which has the most
subspecies of tigers. There used to be 5 kinds of subspecies, but now there
remain only 4. Among them, the South China Tiger is the subspecies which only
exists in China. For example, Indian Tigers live in Bengal, Nepal and China.
Thus, South China Tigers should deserve more to be called the Chinese Tigers.
Besides, the Chinese tigers used to be found everywhere in central China, not be
limited to South China. It is the Chinese tiger that Wu Song once fought with.
about tigers, Li Quan gets very worried. She said not much time is left for us
and saving the Chinese tigers is such a demanding task. Li Quan, together with
her volunteers, has been working very hard to overcome numerous difficulties in
the course of making great efforts to save China’s tigers.
proposal is to protect the whole ecological chain and their habitats in China by
using the Chinese tiger as the flagship. Making moderate use of wildlife
resources will help make protection work long term sustainable, and it will be
possible to let wildlife which have been up to now under single species
protection programs now rejoin Nature and co-exist harmoniously in the wild. In
addition, these wildlife can bring economic benefits to the inhabitants living
near the conservation areas and wake up their consciousness of wildlife
protection. This really makes
wildlife protection sustainable。
No efforts means
no effects, let alone achievements. Li Quan’s efforts can be seen. They
participated in the funding of the survey work on wild South China Tigers
conducted by the State Forestry Adminstration last year as well as the on-going
infrared wild tiger survey being carried out now in Hunan province. Moreover, Li
Quan managed to gain support from international tiger experts and helped China
invite them to participate in the survey work last year.
Off the Danger that Happened under the Tiger Teeth
the course of observing tigers, Li Quan once had the most “dangerous”
time she was with a captive tiger in a monastery in Thailand. Suddenly the tiger
put his teeth on Li’s leg. If people don’t know well about tigers’ nature,
they can’t be aware that he was just showing affection.
Even a slight move caused by fear may make the tiger’s teeth cut
through L’s thigh, leading to the split of the nerves and marrow.
Luckily, Li Quan headed off
the “danger” by patting on the tiger’s head calmly. The tiger rubbed on
her leg affectionately and then moved his teeth away.
put the tigers in cages. This conquers only tigers’ bodies. Man can never
conquer their soul, for tigers’ soul is taken care of and blessed by Nature.
The more man tolerate tigers, the more benefits man will receive: the more we
tolerate, the larger the nature reserves are, and the more benefits we humans
will finally get. That’s what Li Quan has always had faith in.
to the work of saving China’s tigers, Li Quan feels the biggest difficulty
doesn’t come from staff, funding or concept etc. Instead, it’s from how to
solve the genetic problems of the Chinese tigers. Due to the tigers’ long life
in zoos and the intermarriages the status of the genes of the Chinese tigers
degenerate. The problems can be solved only by changing their living environment
and by conducting breeding scientifically.
the South China Tigers remains a very controversial issue, since wild South
China Tigers are really so few that it is estimated to be only between 10 to 30.
Somebody asked her, “If one day they really die out, when you think back to
your current work, will you ever doubt its significance?” Li Quan answered
without hesitation, “Absolutely no, for we at least have done what we can do.
So to us, nothing to regret.
order to have such a clear conscience, Li Quan has really sacrificed many
things. Luckily, her family all support her “demanding but difficult” work.
Li Quan’s brother has been working with her from the very beginning while her
husband is the financial pillar of the organization and has even decided to
offer continual support. Li Quan said with a smile that her husband used to be a
man who even didn’t like cats. But now influenced by her, he became in love
with tigers too.
Quan hopes the whole society will recognize the cultural significance of the
Chinese tigers. She especially hopes that the Olympics 2008 will make the
Chinese tigers the mascot in order for the Tiger King spirits of China to be
makes Li Quan happy is that more and more people joined her in the last 3 years.
Quan is not alone.
- Journalist of
CCTV International, Zhong Ai
eye for tigers
fashion industry hotshot Li Quan has a quirky side. Save China's Tigers'
spacious headquarters at the top of a converted warehouse near the Tower of
London contains little except an indoor ski slope shaped like a mountain - and
star feline is Darwin the Persian who rolls on the floor, bringing a smile to
its brightly clad owner and in other parts of the room can be found two more
Persian cats - Black Smoke and Dada. Embroidered into the design of Li's rug is
a cheetah, a leopard, a tiger and a lion. There are also a number of tiger
ornaments - including a cuddly toy tiger astride a massage chair.
no doubt Li's a feline fanatic. But she is particularly partial to one species -
the tiger. And not just any old tiger. Forget the glory-grabbing Siberian
variety that made news this month when, for the first time, one was caught on
film in the Hunchun nature reserve in north-east China's Jilin province.
Consider another lesser-known variety whose profile is rising thanks to Li's
campaigning and creative thinking: the South China tiger.
animal could yet become as well-loved as the panda if Li succeeds in her drive
to have it adopted as the mascot for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
''There's no other animal, no other symbol better than the tiger,'' Li argues,
pointing to its dynamism and athleticism.
adds that the tiger's spirit is central to Chinese culture. Traditional Chinese
paintings have been inspired by this ''king of the forest'', as the Chinese call
the animal that, for several thousand years, commanded reverential respect. Also
in its favour is its primeval prowess. Considered the mother of all tigers, it
originated on the mainland two million years ago, Li claims. And yet, she
laments, before she began campaigning, hardly anyone knew how endangered it was.
only found out in the wake of a 1997 visit to a national park in Zambia, that
fired her interest in big-cat conservation. Li approached China's Forestry
Commission and offered to join the fight to save the Siberian tiger. The
commission told her that if she really wanted to be useful she should try saving
the neglected South China tiger: a tough task because
there are, at most, 30 confined to isolated mountainous areas in southern
China such as Hunan, and a further 60 in zoos, all of them on the mainland.
Li launched Save China's Tigers in 2000 at London's Chinese Embassy, then began
implementing one of the most ambitious private conservation projects ever
undertaken. Funded by her investment-banker husband with US$4 million (HK$31
million), Li bought 35,000 hectares in the rural community of Philippolis in
South Africa for the exclusive use of cubs reared in Chinese zoos.
plans to take the first pair of cubs to Philippolis later this year. In 2008, to
coincide with the Olympics, the first rehabilitated South China tigers will be
flown to another reserve in China to live and breed. In a letter to the
foundation, big-cat expert American Dr Gary Koehler said: ''Such a conservation
success would be as profound a legacy as the Great
one that not only the people of China but all mankind could be proud of.''
there's plenty of scepticism about the project. One doubter is head of the World
Wildlife Fund's (WWF) tiger-conservation programme, Sybille Klenzendorf. She
says it is difficult to rear animals in captivity so they can successfully hunt
prey in the wild and survive without human help.
says the reason tigers reached the brink of extinction in South China is heavy
poaching combined with the destruction of habitat, and argues conditions must
first be improved before the re-introduction programme comes into play.
even if this did happen, the animals might need an attitude adjustment -
captive-bred tigers are often habituated to humans and so do not fear them.
poses a dangerous situation, particularly with large carnivores in a densely
populated area,'' Klenzendorf says.
response to these criticisms, Li becomes defensive. On how the tigers would
manage to hunt, essentially, she says that, through training, her rangers would
encourage their natural instincts. On the habitat-destruction issue, her thrust
is that both reserves would be fenced - deterring human intrusion and damage.
the spectre of overconfident tigers walking up to humans, Li suggests this would
only be the case with first-generation tigers that were zoo-bred. Later
generations, bred in the wild, would be naturally wary.
what comes across more clearly is her disdain for the WWF. She describes it as
''a political media organisation that rarely does anything concrete''. That
said, she agrees with the WWF that the main reasons for the tiger's demise are
poaching and habitat destruction. However, do not blame the use of tiger parts
in traditional Chinese medicine, she says. Li mentions a survey cited in Cory
Meacham's book How The Tiger Lost Its Stripes, which argued that the practice
has only a mild, limited effect on tiger numbers.
was born in the year of the tiger, 1962, in Beijing to what she terms ''a PLA
family'': her army-engineer father worked at Zhangjiagang Research Institute and
her mother was a singer with the Zhanyou Performance Group at Beijing Military
Headquarters. Li has always loved animals, especially cats.
lack of a better subject, Li read literature at Beijing University, describing
'rebellious''. Her father encouraged her to be ''outrageous'', buying her things
that categorised her as ''capitalistic''. To ensure she stood out from the
crowd, she designed her own clothes, tops that ''looked very different from the
rest'', she coyly says. Different how? ''Um, you know, just more open, on the
back and on the shoulders.'' Her tutor condemned her revealing look, saying she
had been ''contaminated by capitalists''. After graduating in 1984, she
completed an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and wound up
as a fashion company marketing executive, working in Italy for Fila then
Benetton and Gucci between 1991 and 1997.
rarely enjoyed the work and speaks about her high-flying career like someone
recalling a stint flipping burgers - the tribulations she faced were nothing
compared with those she would later experience with Save China's Tigers. (She
mentions once breaking two front teeth when she fell on a shallow, stony
riverbed during one of several inspection trips to Chinese reserves.) After
quitting the fashion business, she moved to London to join her husband Stuart
Bray. He fretted at first about what the foundation would entail but slowly came
round and today helps out more and more.
to the foundation almost to the point of obsession (''I never relax'') Li has no
children, but says her cats are substitutes.
popular culture the tiger is also portrayed as the embodiment of menace, which
may make readers wonder if, in the photograph (above, taken in South Africa last
year) of Li beside a huge tiger, the creature was sedated. The answer, she says,
is no. Sedation just was not and would never be necessary, Li claims. After all,
in her view, tigers are often more docile than domestic cats. ''They don't
attack humans unless you really step on their toes.''
Li and tigers have an understanding. ''When I look into those burning eyes, I
feel their innocence and that they are so vulnerable - their other side. I feel
an affinity which they probably feel in return.''
David Wilson South
China Morning Post February 17, 2003