Experts have been dis-patched to northwest China’s Qinling Mountains area to investigate claims a farmer photographed a wild South China tiger earlier this month, according to a State Forest Administration (SFA) newsletter published yesterday.
Qinling Mountains in Zhenping County, Shaanxi Province, was formally an important habitat for the South China tiger.
The SFA said efforts to protect the forest and its wildlife had resulted in improvements to the habitat and recovery of native species.
It was thought wild South China tigers had been wiped out. There are about 50 of the big cats in zoos.
Earlier this month, the Shaanxi forestry department showed off a digital photo of what appeared to be a South China tiger, the first time the species has been seen in the wild for more than two decades.
The photographer was Zhou Zhenglong, 52, a farmer and former hunter from Chengguan Township in Zhenping County. He said he took the photo on October 3.
Some experts, however, suspect the photo is a computer-generated fake, citing the blurred image and lighting.
Fu Dezhi, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in his blog that Zhou might have faked the picture using a paper tiger.
The authorities, however, insist the picture is authentic.
“Zhou Zhenglong risked his life taking these photos so they are very precious. We are being cautious and responsible by releasing one of the photos,” Zhu Julong, deputy head of the provincial forestry department, said.
Zhou was not a professional photographer, he said, and understandably panicked when he was close to the tiger, which explained why the images were blurry.
The SFA plans to launch a thorough search of the Qinling Mountain area to investigate the existence, or not, of the South China tiger in the wild.