BEIJING -- Police and forestry workers at Badaling, a section of the Great Wall in northern Beijing, are setting traps for an alleged "wild wolf" which some villagers claimed to have spotted -- and even captured on camera.
The forestry police station at Badaling in Beijing's rural Yanqing County confirmed in an interview with Xinhua Tuesday they had received a digital image of a wolf-like animal allegedly shot by a villager last Friday. But police did not name the photographer.
Rumors that a wolf was wandering near the Great Wall, a landmark for sightseers and mountaineers, spread rapidly among residents over the past week. "Wild wolves used to haunt here when I was a teenager," said a 74-year-old villager surnamed Hu.
Though Hu hadn't seen any wolves for nearly 60 years, he said the animal might still exist in the wild mountain forests.
A forestry police officer surnamed Wu said he had sent the electronic photo to the forestry and wildlife preservation authorities. "They all confirmed the image was a wolf," said Wu.
Wu and his colleagues toured the mountains Monday with several wildlife preservation officials and zoologists from a nearby safari park. No wolf was spotted, "but we did see some rare footprints," Wu said.
A spokesman with the Badaling Safari Park confirmed no wolf was missing according to Monday's headcount.
A survey conducted in 2000 found about 20 wolves in mountains in the northern suburbs of Beijing, said Wang Minzhong, a chief wildlife preservation specialist with Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry. "Unless cornered, these wolves are unlikely to attack."
Wang said he had received reports from the Great Wall management committee about the possible existence of a wild wolf but had not seen the electronic photo. "Two experts from Beijing Zoo have joined the hunt," he said.
Wang Zengnian, deputy chief of Beijing Wildlife Protection Association, said wolves disappeared from Beijing in the 1950s, but there were occasional reports from individual farmers claiming they had spotted the animal.
The news of the suspected wolf was published Tuesday by the Beijing News, a leading metropolitan newspaper, and sina.com, and triggered heated online debates over whether the wolf photo was fabricated, and if the animal was indeed a wolf, whether authorities should leave it alone.
"The Great Wall was a major habitat for wild beasts in ancient times. It's good news that wolves are coming back," said an Internet surfer from the southern Guangdong Province.
Yet several Internet users said the wolf photo reminded them of last year's fake tiger photo that led to the sackings of seven officials in the northwestern Shaanxi Province and suspended 2.5-year jail term for the photographer Zhou Zhenglong, a farmer.