RARE-TIGER PHOTO FLAP MAKES FUR FLY IN CHINA
CREDIT: ZHOU ZHENGLONG
A few weeks ago, tiger researchers celebrated the news that a South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) had been spotted--and photographed--in the wilds of Shaanxi Province. But netizens in China and elsewhere have declared it only a "paper tiger" after scrutinizing the two available images.
Although the species has been declared "functionally extinct," reports of tiger activity in the heavily forested Qinba Mountains prompted Shaanxi officials to offer a reward to anyone able to photograph one of the tigers.
At a 12 October press conference in Xian, Zhou Zhenglong, a former hunter, told a rapt audience of his quest to photograph the beast, crawling to within 20 meters of one and snapping 71 images. When the camera's flash went off, the tiger roared and disappeared, he said.
Skeptics, citing factors such as the tiger's tame-looking expression and unreal coat color--as well as the fact that the two photos portray exactly the same tiger but differently positioned foliage-- think it's more likely that someone planted a cardboard tiger in the bushes. Fu Dezhi, a botanist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, adds that the plants are not to scale in relation to the tiger. Zhou, who was paid 20,000 yuan ($2666) for the images, says, "I guarantee with my head that the photographs are authentic."
The Shaanxi Forestry Bureau is pushing ahead with plans for a thorough survey and a tiger reserve. "It's tremendously exciting news, if it can be substantiated," says tiger expert Gary Koehler of Washington state's Department of Fish and Wildlife (Science, 7 September, p. 1312). But first, "they need to look for hair snags or scat" for genetic verification.