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. 

Seventeen 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.

Domestic 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 MBA degree?

By taking 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.

Li 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.

But her 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 uncomfortable.

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.

Years of 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.

In the 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.

Travel 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.

In 1997, 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.

Finally Li 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.  

This was 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 benefit….

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 .

If most 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?

An adventurous idea formed.

Save China's 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..

“There have 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.

Whenever talking 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.

Li Quan’s 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.

Head Off the Danger that Happened under the Tiger Teeth

In the course of observing tigers, Li Quan once had the most “dangerous” experience.

That 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.    

Man 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.

As 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.

Saving 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.

In 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.

Li 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 re-glorified.. .

What makes Li Quan happy is that more and more people joined her in the last 3 years.

Li Quan is not alone.            - Journalist of CCTV International, Zhong Ai     


An eye for tigers

Reformed 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 several cats.

The 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.    

There's 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.

That 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.

She 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.

She 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.

Undaunted, 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.

Li 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

Wall, one that not only the people of China but all mankind could be proud of.''

However, 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.

She 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.

However, 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. 

''This poses a dangerous situation, particularly with large carnivores in a densely populated area,'' Klenzendorf says.

In 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.

On 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.

But 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.

Li 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.

For lack of a better subject, Li read literature at Beijing University, describing herself as '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.

Li 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.

Devoted to the foundation almost to the point of obsession (''I never relax'') Li has no children, but says her cats are substitutes.  

In 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.''

Moreover, 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.''   - By David Wilson   South China Morning Post   February 17, 2003  

全莉:与虎的不解情缘

  十七年前,全莉,一个北大刚毕业的年轻学子,幸运地踏上了出国留学的道路。在准备出国的日子里,最让她头疼的是,如何把自己心爱的一只小猫出国。

  十七年后,全莉还在一趟趟地往国外搬运着自己心爱的,只是这回换成了大猫”——中国虎,搬运的工具也从飞机升格为互联网。

  猫和虎,同属于猫科动物。它们和全莉,一个移居国外多年、懂七国语言、拿着MBA学位证书、早已功成名就的中国女子,究竟有着怎样的一份情愫?

  74日晚,借全莉女士到央视国际网络做客的机会,我们揭开了其中之谜。


少年爱猫与父母抗争到底

  全莉出生于北京一个军人家庭,从小就喜欢猫和所有的猫科动物。她喜欢它们身上表现出来的那种对立统一的美:柔滑的皮毛和舒展的曲线,构成美丽的形象,凶猛和速度则是强悍的体现,慵懒、闲散与爆发力的集于一身,堪称完美组合。

  可小时候家里不让养猫,每当全莉抱回一只猫,养不到半个月,总被父母强制性地送人。在家人的眼里,觉得猫脏,可熟知猫秉性的全莉知道,事实上,猫是最讲究卫生的小动物,哪怕是一点点的不洁,都能给它带来不适的感觉。

  说明不了父母,倔强的全莉采取了自己独特的一种方式展开抗争:每送走一只猫,隔不了多久,她就再领回一只,屡送屡养,屡养屡送……

  成长的岁月,在抗争中渐渐流逝。高考来临了,可全莉发现,当时根本没有类似野生动物学这样的学科可供自己选择。四年大学,全莉选择了英语专业,第二学科是社会人类学。

  接下来的日子,是出国留学,攻读MBA。在美国拿了学位后,全莉进入服装界,后来到意大利工作,直到拥有了一份令人艳慕的高薪职位——全莉曾一度就职于国际驰名品牌意大利的GUCCI公司,担任该公司的全球品牌认证官。这在一个说着意大利语的国度里,即使是本土人士也很难拥有这样重要的职位,却让她,一个异域女子轻而易举地获得了。

  就在全莉一步步走向世人眼中所谓的成功时,一份少年挚爱,却也在紧张忙碌的生活中被埋藏了。

  南非之行只为寻找金钱豹

  最初进入时装界,可以说是因为美的召唤。就像当年喜欢猫和所有的猫科动物,也是被它们身上那种对立统一的美所折服。但是,剥离表象看本质,全莉发现这种时尚的美,与动物那种自然美相去甚远。7年过去,她对眼前的生活产生了一种莫名的厌倦。况且,工作已从最初的无序走向了有序,挑战不复存在,刺激也荡然无存。

  1997年,不安分的全莉做出了一个令人吃惊的决定。

  她放弃了成功的事业离开意大利,来到伦敦,与相恋多年的男友聚首,成立了一个幸福的家庭。

  这时候全莉终于有了大块的时间重新审视自己的所爱。1998年,她只身一人来到非洲,寻找金钱豹——又一种猫科动物。

  这是全莉第一次踏上非洲大地。在深入南非腹地,一次次追踪的过程中,全莉意外地发现了当地人保护动物的一种全新模式。他们以一只金钱豹为首,发起与之相关的整条生物链的生态旅游,旅游业和随之而起的相关服务业给当地居民提供了就业机会,并带来不低的经济效益,有了经济的保障,生态环境和旅游业得到了更近一步的发展……

  学管理懂经商的全莉立马就想到了国内。如果把这种模式引入到国内,将产生多大的良性影响啊。

  与此同时,全莉了解到,老虎8个亚种包括现存的5个亚种皆是由华南虎衍生而来,华南虎也是目前惟一仅存于中国的老虎亚种,但是,知道老虎起源于中国的人却并不多。

  如果大多数的外国人不知道中国有虎,甚至不知道虎起源于中国,那么中国对拯救虎和其它野生动物所做的大量工作,又如何获得更多人的理解和支持?为什么不把虎提升到中国文化的高度上进行宣传呢?

  于是,一个大胆的想法出现了。

  拯救中国虎在行动

  1999年夏天,全莉回到国内,与国家有关部门的相关人员进行第一次接触,谈了自己的设想。没想到,对方的反应即热情又怀疑。

  在我们这里,来来往往提出过各种援助的人很多,但最终都无声无息了……”

  全莉看出了对方眼中的疑虑,她二话不说,率先拿出自己十几万美金的积蓄。

  全莉认为拯救中国虎不仅仅是为了挽救大自然,更是为了挽救我们的文化与我们民族的精神。拯救华南虎是一个非常严峻有争议的问题。现存的野生华南虎估计只有1030头。但是如果我们不作任何努力,华南虎将肯定无法挽回地灭绝。

  2000年,在英国政府有关部门的批复下,一个叫拯救中国虎国际联合会的机构正式成立了。这是全世界第一个专门为保护中国虎和中国其它大型猫科动物而设的慈善基金组织, 还开通了www.savechinastiger.org网站,目的是为在国际上宣传保护华南虎的意义,并寻求国际间的支持与合作。这一笔笔资金,一方面,要资助野生中国虎的调查,以保护它们的栖息地;另一方面,还要尝试将动物园里人工饲养的虎进行野化训练,恢复它们的生存技能。近三年的时间里,全莉的足迹几乎踏遍了全国所有的中国虎保护区。

  全莉辞了职,全力投入拯救华南虎的事业中,为了这一目标而全世界奔走。中国有这么多种老虎,为什么要单独提出拯救华南虎,而且还将这个概念泛化为中国虎?全莉对华南虎情有独衷是有原因的,中国是虎的亚种最多的国家,曾有5种,现只有4种,而华南虎是惟一只在中国有的虎亚种,比如说印度虎存在于孟加拉、尼伯尔及中国,华南虎更应该被称为中国虎,况且中国虎曾遍布中原各地,不限于江南,武松打的就是中国虎。

  一说到虎,全莉就很焦急,她说我们的时间不是很多,保护中国虎这是一项艰巨的任务。全莉和她的志愿者们为了拯救中国虎付出了艰辛的努力,经过了很多的坎坷。

  全莉的设想是以中国虎为旗舰从而保护中国整个生态链及栖息地,适度的野生动物的利用会使保护工作可持续性发展,使现在受单一保护的动物重新与大自然融合在一起,合协共存,并使动物为野生动物保留地周边的百姓带来经济利益,唤起老百姓的保护意识,真正起到野生动物保护的作用。

  没有努力就没有效果,更没有成就。全莉的努力是看得见的,去年的国家林业局野生华南虎的调查,他们参与了支助,现在还在湖南资助野生虎的调查,全莉还争取到了国际虎专家的支持,去年来华参与调查工作。

  曾经从虎牙下化险为夷

  在与虎接触的过程中,全莉曾经有过一次最危险的经历。

  当时,她和一只正在被野化的老虎呆在一起,老虎突然把它的牙搁在全莉的腿上,如果不熟知老虎的脾性,不知道这是它在表示友好,只要惊慌失措稍一动弹,很可能虎牙就将刺穿全莉的大腿造成骨髓神经裂。还好,全莉只是镇定地拍了拍老虎的脑袋,对方就友好地蹭蹭她的腿收回了虎牙,这才化险为夷。

  人类把老虎关在牢笼中,仅仅是征服了老虎的肉体,永远征服不了老虎的灵魂,老虎的灵魂是由大自然看管和护佑着的。人类对老虎的包容心有多大,受益就将有多大:包容心越大,保护区也就越大,我们人类最终的受益也就越大。——全莉一直这么坚信着。

  对于拯救中国虎的工作,全莉觉得最大的困难不是人员、资金、观念等等,而是在技术上解决中国虎的基因问题,因为长期的动物园生活以及近亲结婚,使中国虎的基因状况退化,这只能从改变它们的环境及科学的交配上来解决。

  拯救华南虎至今还是一个非常严峻有争议的问题。因为现存的野生华南虎实在太少了,估计只有1030头。有人问她如果有一天它真的灭绝了,您回头看看您现在的工作,会不会质疑它的意义呢?”,全莉的问题也很干脆,不会质疑,因为我们毕竟力所能及地做了我们应该做的工作,所以我们问心无愧。

  为了这份问心无愧,全莉的确付出了太多的东西。好在家人都非常支持她这种费力不讨好的工作,全莉的弟弟从开始就跟着她一起到处游说,她丈夫则是联合会的财物支柱,而且已经决定进行持久的支持。全莉笑言,她丈夫已经从一个连猫都不喜欢的人,被她感染成了一个非常热爱老虎的人。

  全莉渴望社会都能认识到中国虎的文化内涵,特别希望2008年奥林匹克运动会能用中国虎做为吉祥物,把中国人的虎王精神发挥出来。

  令全莉欣慰的是,三年过去,越来越多的人加入到了她的行列。

  全莉并不孤单。


(央视国际记者 艾中)CCTV   July 2002

 


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