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  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— 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  




























  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。















(央视国际记者 艾中)CCTV   July 2002


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