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Chinese tigers sent to Africa for hunting lessons

Hope (left), Cathay
Hope (left) and Cathay were a bit groggy at first after their long flight.

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South Africa

PRETORIA, South Africa (Reuters) -- Some poor African antelope will soon be stalked and killed by a tiger -- a startling first in the natural history of both creatures.

Two Chinese tiger cubs completed on Tuesday a 12,000 km (7,000 mile) journey to South Africa, where animal experts will teach the critically endangered cats how to hunt.

Tigers are only found in Asia and the Chinese version of the species is the most threatened of all, hence the highly unusual step of bringing a pair of the cats to the land of the lion.

"With only 60 Chinese tigers left in zoos and less than 30 in the wild, we have to take this drastic measure to save them from likely extinction," Li Quan, the founder of the Save China's Tigers Foundation, said.

The goal is to eventually release them or their offspring into a specially created reserve in southern China in 2008 -- timed to coincide with the Beijing Olympic Games.

Five to seven more of the big cats will be brought to South Africa over the next five years for the same purpose.

The animals will be taught on a 500-hectare (1,235-acre reserve) facility how to hunt impala -- a graceful African antelope -- and warthog, which are good stand-ins for the deer and wild boar found back in China's dwindling forests.

The two cubs, a seven-month-old female named Cathay and a six-month-old male called Hope, looked groggy but relaxed in their cramped cages after their long flight.

When the cage doors were opened, they bolted quickly into a larger enclosure at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, where they will spend a few weeks before they are taken to the reserve where their hunting skills will be honed.

Male Chinese tigers can grow to 175 kg (385 lb) -- not big by tiger standards but big enough to send shivers down the spine of an impala.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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