Updated: 2007-11-12 07:00
The controversy over the authenticity of photographs of the believed to be "extinct wild South China tiger" has become more dramatic after one of them was published by US-based Science magazine on Friday.
With some scientists and an increasing number of netizens believing the photographs are fakes, the photographer in question seems to be caught in the jaws of the tiger. Was it a hoax for financial gain? The Shaanxi forestry authorities say the photographs are genuine as confirmed by local experts they hired to examine them.
The State Forestry Administration (SFA) has displayed an ambiguity by claiming "whether the photos are real or not does not necessarily illustrate the current situation of the wild South China tigers".
Whether the tiger in the photographs is real or not does matter. If it is, we can say for sure that the species, claimed to be extinct does exist; if it does not, both the photographer and the local forestry authorities should be suspected of cheating for economic benefit.
There is indeed a connection between the wild tiger and benefits for the local economy. If the wild South China tiger is proved to exist, a national level nature reserve must be established in Zhenping, Shaanxi Province. That means that the government will have to invest in a reserve for both the protection and research of this species of tiger.
The concerns of interest is what makes people suspicious of the credibility and sincerity of the Shaanxi forestry authorities.
What is even more strange is the fact the Shaanxi forestry authorities has failed to provide more evidence to prove the tiger's existence since the photographs were first published on October 12. There should be other evidence such as excrement or hairs, not too difficult to collect, if there are as many as eight tigers in the county as local authorities have claimed.
An expedition to be sent by the SFA will possibly shed light on the authenticity of the photographs and put an end to this controversy.
We sincerely hope that this wild animal does exist even if the photographs are proved to be fakes, and mountainous regions fit for the habitation of wild animals are protected as nature reserves even if we are not sure what kind of wild animals they contain.
(China Daily 11/12/2007 page4)