XI'AN -- A newly-released photo, which Chinese forestry authorities say proves the continuing existence of wild South China tigers which have been thought to be extinct, has sparked heated controversy from Internet citizens, questioning its authenticity.
The digital picture, purporting to be a wild South China tiger crouching in the midst of green bushes, was released by the Forestry Department of northwest China's Shaanxi Province at a news conference on October 12.
Zhou Zhenglong, 52, a farmer and former hunter in Chengguan Township of Shaanxi's Zhenping County, photographed the tiger with a digital camera and on film on the afternoon of October 3, a department spokesman said.
Experts had confirmed the 40 digital pictures and 31 film photographs are genuine, the spokesman told reporters.
But dozens of netizens expressed doubts about the authenticity of the digital picture -- the only one of the 71 taken to be released at the news conference -- after it had been posted on the Internet, especially in on-line forums discussing Photoshop (PS) technologies.
Netizens suspected that the picture had been processed with PS technologies before release, citing the irregular effects of illumination and focus, and the unreal fur colour of the tiger.
Some doubted whether the tiger is a wild one because its eyes look mild and dull, not frightening.
While others said that the tiger's skin and hair seem too shiny, without three-dimensional effect, and speculated that the digital picture might be taken from another picture featuring a South China tiger, or even that a tiger picture was enlarged, made into cardboard cut-out and placed in bushes before being photographed.
A forestry official in Shaanxi defended the authenticity of the digital picture on Thursday.
"Zhou Zhenglong risked his life in taking these photos, so they are very precious. We are being cautious and responsible in releasing one of the photos," said Zhu Julong, deputy head of the Provincial Forestry Department.
He added that Zhou was not a professional photographer and took these photos in a great panic because he was close to the tiger. As a result, many of the pictures are unclear, he said.
"Zhou only agreed to give us two digital pictures for release and we chose a relatively clear one," he said.
Chai Jianzhong, manager of the Xinjinhu Digital Photo Service in the provincial capital of Xi'an, also defended the authenticity of Zhou's picture.
"The colour of his digital pictures is very good and looks more brilliant after being developed, but the film negatives are unclear. Technologically, the photos were not fabricated," Chai said.