Endangered species in photos just a paper tiger
Shi Jingtao in Beijing
Authorities in Shaanxi have finally conceded that a set of suspicious photos of an endangered South China tiger are fake and have arrested the farmer who produced them.
Thirteen officials have also been sacked or penalised in a bid to end the months-long controversy.
But at a press conference in Xian yesterday, provincial officials put most of the blame on Zhou Zhenglong , a farmer who claimed to have shot photos of the near-extinct tiger in the wild, receiving a 20,000 yuan (HK$22,700) reward.
Mr Zhou, of Zhenping county, had been arrested on suspicion of fraud, a police spokesman said.
The photos, released by the provincial forestry department in October, were trumpeted as proof of the existence of a species that had not been seen in the wild for decades. Support for state funding to set up a national tiger reserve in the tourist-hungry region followed.
But the authenticity of the images was immediately contested. Photography, zoology and botany experts declared them fakes, but provincial authorities delayed the release of a report for months.
Seven local officials have been sacked and six, including the provincial forestry chief and the county chief of Zhenping, were punished, Xinhua said.
Police confirmed early speculation that the photos had been copied from a Lunar New Year poster.