Reward defended in 'fake-tigergate' saga
Shaanxi governor says claim will be verified
As the South China tiger photo saga sparks more lawsuits, Shaanxi authorities have denied claims the province's handsome reward scheme for discovering endangered animals was the cause of the fiasco.
On the sidelines of an investment conference in Hong Kong yesterday, Shaanxi governor Yuan Chunqing stood by the incentives.
'The South China tiger has become the hottest talking point in the media, and I am very concerned about it too,' Mr Yuan said.
'However, I should say that our encouragement efforts were correct ... because the endangered South China tiger does not only concern Shaanxi people but the whole world.'
The 'fake-tigergate', as Chinese media and netizens are calling the affair, started with two digital photos claiming to show a tiger lying in a forest.
They were taken by Shaanxi hunter Zhou Zhenglong and sold to the Shaanxi forestry bureau for 20,000 yuan.
Relying solely on the photographic evidence, the bureau announced the comeback of the tiger, one of the world's most endangered species and only found in China.
But sceptics soon raised their doubts online, despite the bureau's claims the photos were verified by experts, and the controversy quickly became more than an issue of wildlife conservation.
The discovery was derided as a 'paper tiger', critics said the photo was digitally altered, the provincial government was accused of negligence and the State Forestry Administration came under attack for refusing to authenticate the photos.
Some critics accused Mr Zhou of wanting to make quick cash and the government of trying to attract investment and tourism.
Last week the controversy escalated even further.
Following doctoral law student Hao Jingsong's decision to sue Mr Zhou for fraud and the publication of the photo in the US' Science magazine under the title 'Flat Cat?', both Mr Hao and Mr Zhou announced new moves yesterday.
Mr Hao said he had filed an administrative appeal with the State Forestry Administration, urging it to authenticate the photos and discipline the Shaanxi authorities for their 'misbehaviour'.
Meanwhile, Mr Zhou said he planned to sue one of his most vehement critics, Chinese Academy of Sciences botanist Fu Dezhi , who said it was impossible for a leaf to be as long as the one covering the tiger's head in the photo. A photo of him holding a leaf about 30cm long is circulating online.
Henan University of Finance and Economics sociology professor Liu Zhimei said the saga exposed a web of distrust, with integrity becoming a social issue. 'The media, the hunter, the citizens, the experts and the government - they all distrust each other,' he said.
'I believe even if another authority authenticates the photo in the future, it will still find it difficult to garner the absolute confidence of society.'
This was especially true when money was involved.
The Shaanxi governor defended the province's reward scheme after introducing Hong Kong media to Shaanxi's endangered animals - from giant pandas and golden monkeys to clouded leopards - and underlining the government's efforts to track and protect the rare species.
He stressed that researchers had discovered tiger droppings and hair, suggesting it was possible the South China tiger was still in Shaanxi. And he said an answer on the authenticity of the photo would be available soon.
'We will give the public an absolute conclusion on the authenticity of the photo very soon,' he said. 'The State Forestry Administration will come to our province to investigate. We will do our best to co-operate with them to find the answer.'