Shaanxi blames local forestry officials for 'Tigergate' fiasco

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2008, 12:00am

Shaanxi's provincial government has blamed its forestry department for releasing photographs purportedly showing a wild South China tiger without seeking approval from higher authorities first.

A forensic centre appointed to authenticate the photos is about to release its findings. The photos, which have been questioned by many, caused a national furore and became a political embarrassment for the provincial government.

The central leadership's disapproval of the provincial government's handling of the incident was reflected by an editorial in the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily in November - about a month after the photos were released by Shaanxi Forestry Department - in which it accused Shaanxi officials of 'jumping to announce the authenticity of the photograph'.

In contrast, the editorial praised the State Forestry Administration for its 'respectful attitude' in sending an investigation team to the county.

However, the administration backed away from the controversy early last month, announcing that it would not look into the disputed photos because it was 'beyond its responsibility'. It ordered Shaanxi forestry authorities to do so instead.

No result has been released or the forensic centre entrusted with the task named so far. A Shaanxi forestry official reportedly conceded that the delay was due to the 'immense pressure' the forensic centre was under.

The Nanjing Morning Post yesterday quoted a senior official from the Shaanxi provincial party committee's publicity department as saying that the provincial forestry department had failed to seek its approval before releasing the photos at a press conference. It had also failed to report the matter to the State Forestry Administration, the paper reported.

A state forestry official was quoted as saying it only intervened in the case after Zhou Zhenglong , a hunter in Zhenping county in Shaanxi, took the film to the administration amid the outcry over the incident following the release of the photos.

Coincidentally, the paper's reporter had received a call from a senior Ankang city Forestry Department official, who claimed the Zhenping county forestry department had never reported on the progress of a South China tiger survey that started in 2006, even though the department was a subordinate unit.

The failure of the local authorities to seek approval or report to their superiors was due to their fear that their achievements would be 'usurped' if they did so, the report cited sources as saying.