'Fake-tigergate' hunter feted by forest official

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2007, 12:00am

Just days after Shaanxi government officials were criticised for their roles over the 'fake-tigergate' controversy, a senior provincial forestry official visited the man who claimed to have photographed the tiger to reaffirm his support.

Zhu Julong, deputy director of the Shaanxi Forestry Department, said during the visit on Saturday morning that he 'had never wavered in his belief in the authenticity of the photos taken by Zhou Zhenglong ', the Information Times reported yesterday.

The photos taken by Mr Zhou, a hunter in mountainous Zhenping county in Shaanxi, purportedly show a living South China tiger - one of the world's most endangered species and only found in China - in the wild.

'I hope to use this home visit to express my support and understanding to Zhou Zhenglong and to lessen the pressure that he was put under by the recent media reports and the poster incident,' Mr Zhu said.

He was referring to the new twist last week when netizens claimed a Lunar New Year poster featured a South China tiger that looked remarkably like the one photographed by the Shaanxi hunter.

Heaping praise on the hunter, who sat next to the official in the photos carried in the newspaper, Mr Zhu said what the hunter did for protecting the endangered tiger would 'certainly leave a heavy stroke' in the history of the mainland's protection of wild life.

Mr Zhou burst into tears and claimed that anybody who cast doubts about his photos could give him two rounds of ammunition and a gun so that he could head to the mountains and shoot one.

He further asserted that he would even sell his house so he could rent a vehicle to bring the tiger from Zhenping county to Tiananmen Square to prove his claims.

The official's move came amid rising criticism over local forestry authorities' handling of the so-called 'fake-tigergate' incident.

They quickly confirmed the authenticity of the photographs and announced the comeback of the tiger. The hunter was given a 20,000 yuan reward.

With the public outcry showing no sign of abating, a People's Daily editorial last week described the incident as a farce and criticised the way provincial authorities had dealt with it.

The editorial also accused Zhenping county of wanting to use the tiger to boost local tourism as it stood to gain national funding to build a nature reserve for the tiger.

But Mr Zhu said that even though a nature reserve was to be built, the local authorities had little to gain because they would get only 10 million yuan to build it but then they would have to shoulder all the costs of its long-term operation.

The National Forestry Administration has sent a team to the county to investigate the sighting, yet so far no decision has been made on the authenticity of the photos.