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Footprints but no tiger as yet
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State Forestry Administration investigators found more than 100 suspected footprints of a South China tiger last week in Shaanxi Province, where photos of the big cat taken by a farmer caused a national controversy over their authenticity.

The Beijing Morning Post reported that Zhang Bin, a local forestry official who accompanied the investigators, said the team also found a skeleton believed to be that of a young tiger.

"It's like the skeleton of a cat," said Zhang, adding the bones had been sent to Beijing for DNA testing. "But experts said with a length of 50 centimeters, a cat would have grown tooth bones. This skeleton hasn't (teeth). It's like a feline cub."

"The experts said there is a great probability that it belongs to a South China tiger cub."

He said the footprints found in Zhenping County ranged from 12cm to 16cm with toes. "In my experience in investigating the wild, they are tiger footprints. They belong to more than one tiger."

Zhang said the experts had also taken casts of the footprints for further analysis.

In October, a farmer in Zhenping County, in the northern Shaanxi Province, claimed he snapped photos of a tiger in the forest near his home. The provincial forestry bureau later cited experts verifying it was a South China tiger. The subspecies was believed to have been extinct in the wild for more than three decades.

However, many scientists and Internet users have denounced the pictures as fake.

Despite this, the provincial forestry department insisted the tiger in the photo existed in Zhenping. The Photographers Society, however, confirmed the images were not real.

(Xinhua News Agency January 2, 2008)

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