Hope arrived in this country five years ago alive and well, and will leave it at the end of this month mounted and stuffed.

Pretoria-based taxidermists are preparing the rare South China tiger, who died in this country in 2005, for return to China to be exhibited, said conservation body Save China’s Tigers in a statement on Friday.

Hope was two years old when he died during “rewilding training” in the Laohu Valley Reserve in the Free State.

He had arrived as a cub from his birthplace in the Shanghai Zoo in 2003 as part of a project to take zoo-born tigers, train them to live in the wild, breed them and reintroduce their offspring to protected reserves in China, said the charity’s founder Li Quan.

At the time of his death, likely from heart failure or pneumonia, Hope had already successfully hunted his first antelope.

“His body has been expertly and lovingly restored by a highly respected taxidermist using state-of-the art techniques as a special remembrance of a magnificent animal, one of the last remaining South China tigers on earth,” said Quan.

He would be shipped back to China later this month.

Talks were underway to have Hope exhibited permanently at the Museum of Nature in Beijing.

“We envision this as a life-like permanent display. A powerful educational tool that will fascinate children — a rare tiger than can be approached and studied closely.” According to the charity about 75 South China tigers exist in captivity.

Some believe that fewer than 30 survive in the wild. Some conservation groups have written off the Chinese Tiger as “functionally extinct”.

Since 2003, Save China’s Tigers has successfully rewilded four adult tigers on the 330sq km Laohu Valley Reserve.