BEIJING, Dec 21 (Reuters) - A saga in China about a farmer nearly jailed over photos he took of a critically endangered tiger that were later judged to be fake has taken a new twist — the photographer now claims the pictures were real.
Zhou Zhenglong, a 54-year-old farmer from a mountainous county in northern Shaanxi province, was awarded a 20,000 yuan ($2,922) bonus last year, after he produced pictures which authorities said were evidence of a South China tiger.
The pictures, which showed a tiger crouching in a forest setting, sparked an Internet furore led by experts who identified the photos as faked. Local media accused officials of endorsing them as a means of promoting tourism in a poor region.
But Zhou, who was given a suspended jail sentence this year for the fraud, has returned to his original claim that he really did photograph a tiger, the official Xinhua news agency said in a report on its website (www.xinhuanet.com).
It published a brief handwritten letter by Zhou describing his first encounter with a tiger in the summer of 2007, which he said he was unable to photograph due to a problem with his camera. He said was only able to take pictures in October of that year.
"I solemnly declare that the tiger picture was real, and was not faked," Zhou wrote.
Zhou had admitted his guilt during the fraud hearing, state media had previously said.
China has been rocked by a number of scandals involving official endorsement of faked photos.
In February, the chief editor of a Chinese newspaper quit after one of its photographers faked a prize-winning photo of endangered Tibetan antelopes appearing unfazed by a passing train on the Qinghai-Tibet railway. ($1=6.844 Yuan) (Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Dean Yates)