XI'AN -- Chinese researchers announced on Friday that the wild South China Tiger, an endangered tiger subspecies believed to have been extinct in the wild for more than 30 years, was spotted in a mountainous area in northwest China.
The tiger was snapped by a local farmer on October 3 near a cliff in Zhenping County, Shaanxi Province, and experts have confirmed that it was a young wild South China tiger, said the Shaanxi Forestry Department.
Zhou Zhenglong, 52, a farmer of Wencai village who was once a hunter, took pictures of the tiger with a digital camera and on film on the afternoon of October 3, a department spokesman said.
Experts confirmed the 40 digital pictures and 31 film photographs were genuine. One photograph showed the tiger lying in the grass looking straight ahead.
Lu Xirong, head of a South China tiger research team in Shaanxi, said the photos proved that wild south China tigers still exist in China.
"There has been no record of the survival of wild south China tigers in more than 30 years, and it was only an estimate that China still had 20 to 30 such wild tigers," Lu added
The south China tiger is the only tiger subspecies native to China's central and southern areas. In the early 1950s, its population was at 4,000 across the country. Since 1964, no sightings of wild South China tigers have been recorded in Shaanxi.
A cave was also found near the site where the tiger was spotted.
Zhou was given 20,000 yuan (US$2,666) as a reward for the finding by the Shaanxi forestry authorities.
The department said it would continue its research into the wild tigers to find out their distribution and number and establish a special protection area for them.
The department organized a 30-member South China Tiger research team in 2006, which has carried out surveys in Zhenping county since June last year. It said villagers had reported 17 sightings of South China tigers and heard their roars six times, but the claims could not be confirmed.
They also found footprints, excrement, hair and teeth of South China tigers during the survey in Zhenping, which led them to believe the tigers still exist in the wild in China.
The south China tiger, from which other sub-species such as the Siberian Tiger evolved, has been listed as one of the world's ten most endangered animals.
Its former habitats were in Guangdong Province, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region as well as the central provinces of Hunan and Jiangxi.
Lu said the existence of wild South China tigers should be attributed to effective local environmental protection efforts in recent years.
Forestry protection has resulted in an increasing number of large grass-eating animals such as gorals and roe deer, which provide rich prey for wild South China tigers, according to Lu.
Local people's awareness of protection of wild animals has also been raised.