Experts to rule on tiger photos
Lilian Zhang in Shanghai
The State Forestry Administration has ordered Shaanxi provincial officials to entrust experts to investigate the authenticity of alleged photographs of a wild South China tiger.
The administration called on its Shaanxi branch this month to appoint 'state experts' to help put the controversy to rest, Xinhua said.
The administration had previously avoided involvement in the dispute over the authenticity of the photos of the tiger - thought to be nearly extinct - claiming that making any judgment was beyond its responsibilities.
'The local forestry bureau should hold a scientific, cautious and responsible attitude towards the evaluation and announce the results honestly,' Zhuo Rongsheng, director of the administration's wildlife conservation department, said yesterday.
It has been two months since Shaanxi farmer Zhou Zhenglong claimed to have taken photos of a South China tiger in the wild.
Local officials hailed his discovery and awarded him 20,000 yuan, but photography experts and biologists have raised doubts.
Mr Zhuo said the Shaanxi government was obliged to handle the issue because it was responsible for protection of local wildlife.
But he also said the central government had a role. 'Since it is understandable that the public is interested in the authenticity of the photos, we have made positive efforts to promote the investigation,' he said.
The administration has sent a team to the county to investigate the alleged sighting.
This month, the administration's deputy director, Zhu Lieke , said he hoped the public would pay attention to the welfare of wild tigers instead of the photo controversy.