CHANGSHA - An apparently fabricated film of an endangered South China tiger in the central province of Hunan will be seriously dealt with, officials said.
The county government of Pingjiang, Hunan, said on Monday night that it had set up a team composed of staff from the departments of discipline supervision, public security, forestry and industry and commerce to look into the incident. Members of the team have already begun speaking with those involved in the case.
The film, which drew wide public attention, was supposedly shot on March 19. A photographer with the county TV station claimed to have "unintentionally" filmed a large animal. The big cat turned out to be a Siberian tiger that was part of a circus then touring the province.
What it was doing in the wild is uncertain; some have suggested that the filming was a staged event. But several aspects of the film soon aroused suspicion. For example, forestry experts challenged photographer Wu Hua's claim that he had captured the tiger on film "unintentionally."
"The 20-second film was shot from a cliffside, which is a dangerous foothold. The photographer must have climbed up to the cliff and shot purposefully," said Gui Xiaojie, a wild animal protection official with the provincial forestry bureau.
Gui also said that the film stopped abruptly, which was strange since the footage showed that the animal was not disturbed. Common sense would suggest that an excited photographer would seize the rare chance to keep filming such a find, Gui said, unless something happened unexpectedly to stop him.
This tiger tale comes in the wake of a scandal that also riveted the country last October, when villager Zhou Zhenglong in northwest Shaanxi Province produced some 30 pictures of what he claimed was a wild South China tiger, an endangered species that hasn't been seen in the wild since the 1980s.
Zhou said that he risked his life to shoot the picture and was hailed as a hero. He was awarded 20,000 yuan by the provincial forestry authority.
But the authenticity of the photos were soon questioned, and announced to be fake in several unofficial scribes. The Shaanxi authorities were widely accused of trying to boost local tourism and obtain government approval for setting up a tiger reserve by deceit.
The Shaanxi Forestry Department eventually apologized to the public for failing to exercise prudence in their announcement, but it didn't address the authenticity of the pictures.
The national forestry bureau ordered Shaanxi to conduct an official scrutiny of the photos in late October, but it turned out recently that they had not even found an organization that is willing to accept the hot potato.