Netizens come upon lookalike tiger image
Sceptics find poster bearing similar image
The 'fake-tigergate' controversy continues to snowball with netizens claiming that a Lunar New Year poster features a South China tiger that looks remarkably like one photographed by a Shaanxi hunter.
'I've taken a look at the tiger poster hanging on my wall at home,' an internet chatroom user based in Sichuan said. 'Apart from the ears, everything else is the same, even the stripes.'
Comparing the two images side by side, grid by grid, and one superimposed over the other, chatroom users concluded that despite different background settings, the tigers resembled each other in all respects, including their pose, expression and number of stripes.
A group of internet users calling themselves the 'fight tiger' camp claimed victory in the debate, saying the poster was proof that the photograph taken by hunter Zhou Zhenglong in Zhenping county last month was fake.
The general manager of Vista Printing and Wrapping confirmed the company printed and sold the tiger poster five years ago, Xinhua reported. But he refused to say whether Mr Zhou's photograph was a fabrication based on the poster tiger.
Shaanxi forestry official Guan Ke said the newfound poster should be authenticated too, local media reported. He said the authenticity of the photographs should not be equated with the existence, or not, of the South China tiger.
The South China tiger was thought to be extinct, but the Shaanxi Forestry Department revealed two digital photographs taken by Mr Zhou more than a month ago as proof of the rare species' comeback.
Mainland internet users have been at the centre of the debate from the start. They were the first to suggest Mr Zhou's pictures were fake. Now, they have found a poster which they claim puts an end to the saga.
The chatrooms are also where the debate boils. While chatroom users and experts like botanist Fu Dezhi attack the tiger, forestry official Mr Guan defends it by using his blog to issue updates on the department's return to Zhenping to verify the tiger's presence.
Renmin University sociologist Feng Shizheng said the internet provided a platform for people to share their suspicions outside official channels.
'Without the internet, this would not have become news,' he said.
Mr Feng said the best solution remained in the government's hands.
'This issue has ... evolved into one that questions the government's integrity. The government should not try to avoid the issue or leave it to legal resolution. It should take a proactive step to manage the crisis.'
The State Forestry Administration, or another high-level independent science organisation, should carry out re-authentication of Mr Zhou's photographs, he said.
The administration has so far only pledged to send experts to Zhenping to verify the existence of the tigers.