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Protecting wild animals
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The excitement about the discovery of a wild South China tiger in northeast China's Shaanxi Province has now turned into controversy following an accusation by a botanist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences that the photograph is a fake. The photograph was taken by a farmer.

Some people questioned the authenticity of the photograph when it was first published online and in the newspapers on October 12. The botanist firmly believes that the broad tree leaf almost as big as the head of the tiger appearing just above the animal's head is definitely not indigenous.

Yet, the local forestry bureau, which got experts to examine the photograph, believes it is authentic. The bureau claims that as many as eight South China tigers are believed to exist in the Qinling Mountain area of the province.

Wild South China tigers are believed to be extinct. None has ever been spotted in the wild for many years. There are only about 50 at present housed in zoos.

It was repeatedly reported that tiger hairs and other traces of the animal were discovered in the Qinling Mountain forests in the recent past, but never has anyone claimed to have actually seen one. No wonder it caused such a stir when the farmer claimed to have spotted one and took a photograph of it.

Every Chinese would be more than happy to believe that this flesh-eating feline does exist in the wilderness of Qinling Mountain.

But if the botanist is right, then the farmer has plotted the entire incident for economic gains. He has played on the feelings of all his countrymen who are concerned with the fate of this species of tiger.

The local government needs to be very careful in dealing with this issue. Apart from further checking the authenticity of the photograph, other evidence such as tiger hairs or droppings that can be tested to testify to its existence needs to be collected. If this evidence is available, it should be made public as soon as possible.

Whether the published photograph is genuine or not is one thing, the protection of the ecological environment is also important.

It is right for the local government to have banned hunting in the mountainous area and put the entire forest under tight protection as a nature reserve following news about the tiger. Even if no wild South China tigers exist there, such efforts need to be continued to protect other wild animals.

(China Daily October 23, 2007)

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