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Farmer returns to wilderness to prove tiger photo genuine
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A Chinese farmer who has been widely accused of fabricating a photo of a south China tiger in the wild, a species that had not been spotted for more than 30 years, says he will return to the wild to track the big cat and substantiate his pictures.

Zhou Zhenglong, 52, a former hunter in Chengguan Township of Shaanxi Province's Zhenping County, reportedly took more than 70 snaps of the rare tiger with a digital camera and on film on the afternoon of October 3. Experts confirmed the images showed one of the elusive cats.

But Chinese Internet users and a botanist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences have questioned its veracity, and claimed digital technologies might have been used to alter the image.

An Internet user under the name "Panzhihua xydz" has posted a poster with a very similar image. "I thought Zhou's photo was familiar somehow. Then I found the same picture hanging on the wall of my mother's home in Panzhihua," said the man, surnamed Li.

Li, from the southwestern Sichuan Province, said the two images were "almost the same" except the one on his mother's wall was lighter in color.

Other Internet users reported seeing the same poster for sale and its producer, a company based in the eastern Zhejiang Province, admitted having printed and sold the tiger poster five years ago.

"We have received many calls asking whether our poster was a replica of Zhou's photo," said Luo Guanglin, general manager of Vista Printing and Wrapping Co. Ltd., in Yiwu. "But that's ridiculous. We published the tiger posters at the end of 2002."

Luo refused to comment on the public allegations that Zhou Zhenglong's photo was a fabrication. "As a company we're not in a position to make any judgement to that effect. Nor do we wish to get involved in the dispute."

The poster, which had sold for 4.5 yuan, has been much sought after across China and now sells for 10 yuan in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong Province.

Fu Dezhi, a noted botanist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the poster "should have revealed the fraudulent nature of the case and put an end to the story".

Yet Zhou Zhenglong insists he captured a real tiger on his camera, and has been searching for tiger tracks in the wild for the last three days. "I need to find more evidence to defend myself."

Zhou said earlier he had risked his life to take the photo. "I was prepared to be killed by the tiger".

Forestry authorities in Zhenping county, where the tiger was purportedly seen, insisted the wild cat did exist in its mountains.

"We have had more than 20 reports since July of tiger tracks, roars, fur and droppings. There have also been reports of attacks on other wild animals," the county's forestry department said in statement.

Amid media speculation over the county's attempt to gain publicity, Yuan Chunqing, governor of Shaanxi Province, said the government had done nothing wrong to encourage the citizens to track endangered animals. "It's far more important for us to carry out the research rather than to tell the veracity of a photo," he said. "I'm sure we'll know the truth soon."

Zhou's alleged discovery and photo of the tiger also appeared in the Science magazine, which quoted Gary Koehler, of Washington State's Department of Fish and Wildlife, as saying, "It's tremendously exciting news, if it can be substantiated".

(China Daily November 19, 2007)

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