Officials under fire in 'tigergate' case

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2007, 12:00am

Shaanxi government officials were criticised in a People's Daily editorial yesterday for their roles in the controversy over a photograph purporting to show a South China tiger alive in the wild.

Calling the 'fake-tigergate' issue a farce, the editorial said the matter had gone beyond whether the picture of the tiger was genuine to the integrity of the Shaanxi government in dealing with vested interests.

Last month, Zhou Zhenglong , a hunter in mountainous Zhenping county, produced photographs of a tiger he said were taken in a forest near his village.

Local forestry authorities quickly confirmed the authenticity of the photographs, and said they were proof that the South China tiger, an endangered species believed to be extinct, still existed in the wild.

But the photographs have since been questioned by internet users, academics and photographers.

On Monday, a mainland internet user found the tiger in the photograph resembled an image in a poster produced in 2002. A comparison of the two images side by side, grid by grid, found the tigers resembled each other in all respects, including their pose, expression and number of stripes. The similarity was confirmed by the owner of the printing house that produced the poster.

Zhenping county wanted to use the tiger to develop tourism and the county stood to gain national funding to build a natural reserve area for the tiger, the paper said.

'Zhenping government's enthusiasm in developing the local economy is understandable, but the cover-up and contradictions in the behaviour by relevant authorities and officials would only spur people to seek truth,' the editorial said.

It described Shaanxi officials as 'jumping to announce the authenticity of the photograph' and praised the National Forestry Administration for its 'respectful attitude'.

'Compared with the eagerness for quick success and instant benefits of local government officials ... the administration did not assume that the photograph was true but sent an investigation team to the county instead of making hasty comment on the genuineness of the photograph,' the editorial said.

It also applauded Hao Jingsong , a doctoral law student, for trying to get the truth by suing Mr Zhou for fraud, and called for investigations.

So far, there has been no decision from the National Forestry Administration on whether the picture is real.

Mr Zhou has repeatedly insisted on his innocence. He was taken away by police yesterday to help in the administration's investigation, the Huashang Daily reported.