BEIJING, March 3 -- Months of field survey by experts from the State Forestry Administration of China has failed to find any "concrete evidence" of South China tiger in Zhenping county, Shaanxi province, where controversial tiger photoes were taken in 2007.
However, the field survey will last for a while and the team will publicize the results as soon as it is finished, said Yin Hong, deputy director of the administration Monday.
A purported South China tiger is pictured in this file photo taken by farmer Zhou Zhenglong. China failed to find any "concrete evidence" of South China tiger in Zhenping county, Shaanxi province, where controversial tiger photoes were taken in 2007. [Xinhua]
Shaanxi province forestry bureau released photos in October taken by a local farmer named Zhou Zhenglong, saying that the photoes were proof that the extremely rare cat was not extinct in the wild as previously thought.
Suspicions about the authenticity of the photos were raised on the Internet almost immediately. It was pointed out the tiger, one of the most fierce animals on the earth, did not move at all during dozens of minutes when the photoes were taken.
The bureau gave a cash award to Zhou and said it would apply for state funding for the establishment of a tiger reserve.
Several unofficial assessments have indicated that the photoes were fake.
Enraged critics accused the bureau of deliberately ignoring the truth for local economic benefits.
Amid heated debate over the genuineness of the photoes and motivation of the bureau, the administration sent a team to the county to trace the South China tiger,
Arriving on November 10, the team searched in an area of 200,000 hectares, interviewed more than 20 villagers who claimed to see the tiger and set up 26 infrared cameras in the area, said Yin.
The State Forestry Administration's latest comment came after a deputy to China's top legislature, the National People's Congress, vowed early Monday to pressure forestry authorities into telling the public whether the photos were true or false.
Xu Yuanyuan, the deputy to the annual parliament session set to open in Beijing on Wednesday, said she was ready to raise the topic at the session and put forth her suggestion.
However, Yin Hong said authenticating the photos is not the administration's responsibility.
Last December, the State Forestry Administration demanded the Shaanxi forestry bureau having the photos authenticated by a panel of experts, but the test has not even started yet, according to related reports.
The Shaanxi bureau apologized in February for "curtly publicizing the discovery of the wild South China Tiger", but said nothing about their authenticity.
In sharp contrast to the tiger mystery, award-winning photographer Liu Weiqiang, 41, admitted last month he faked a picture showing Tibetan antelopes roaming calmly underneath a bridge where a train roared past.
Liu apologized to the public, resigned from the northeast China newspaper he was working, and had his contracts terminated with five leading Chinese media organizations including Xinhua News Agency.
This has prompted a renewed public anxiety in seeking truth about the tiger mystery.
According to an online poll by several leading Chinese websites including xinhuanet.com and sina.com, the paper saga is one of the major issues the public wishes the forthcoming parliament session to address, alongside price hikes, housing, education and medical service.
The wild South China tigers, an endangered tiger subspecies believed to have been extinct in the wild for more than 30 years, is listed as one of the world's ten most endangered animals.