Beijing keeps arm's length in tiger saga

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am

Forestry agency refuses to rule on photos

The central government backed away from the south China tiger controversy yesterday, with the State Forestry Administration saying it would not look into disputed photos taken by a Shaanxi farmer.

'We cannot make a judgment which is beyond our responsibility,' agency spokesman Cao Qingyao said.

Shaanxi's forestry bureau released the photographs in October and said they were proof the species was not extinct in the wild.

But doubters, including a group of digital specialists, biologists and animal experts convened by the China Photography Association, have dismissed the pictures as fakes.

Critics had called for the central government to wade into the issue, but the forestry administration's announcement prompted so much public criticism that a Netizen quickly coined it the 'South China Tiger-gate Incident'.

The administration's press conference was also notable for the absence of its director, Jia Zhibang , who hails from Shaanxi and was its governor before taking up his present post in 2005.

Mr Cao said Mr Jia had another 'very important meeting'.

He said the government hoped the public would focus on the welfare of wild tigers rather than the authenticity of a few photos. 'We believe the Shaanxi government and provincial forestry department will reach a scientific conclusion,' Mr Cao said.

Administration deputy director Zhu Lieke said the south China tiger photos were reminiscent of pictures of the Loch Ness monster.

'People are not sure about the authenticity of the photos; what they care about is the existence of the monster,' Mr Zhu said.

But mainlanders seem more interested in catching a cheat than a monster.

In a poll by internet portal Netease, more than 80 per cent voted for an inquiry into the photos because they wanted to know if 'someone is misusing taxpayers' money in the name of the south China tiger'.

By establishing a tiger protection zone, provincial and city governments can receive state funding, and attract tourists and other businesses.

It is in that context that the south China tiger photos have become one of the most talked-about topics on the mainland, where issues of credibility and corruption prevail.

The evasive attitude of the central government also drew criticism from leading conservation experts.

Feng Zuojian , vice-president of the China Zoological Society, said the forestry administration should clarify the issue. The initial claim was made by Shaanxi's forestry department, which is directly subordinate to the administration.

'Therefore how can you say you are not responsible in finding out what they say is true or not?' he said.