June 29, 2008 / 4:46 AM / 11 years ago

China admits controversial tiger photos faked

BEIJING, June 29 (Reuters) - China has sacked a number of government officials and arrested a man in connection with a set of fake photographs that local authorities had said was proof of the existence of a highly endangered tiger.

In October, forestry officials in Zhenping county in northern Shaanxi province published photos of a tiger in a forest setting, saying they were proof of the existence of the South China tiger. A local farmer who produced the photos was paid a 20,000 yuan ($2,900) reward.

Nine months later, officials admitted the photos were faked, state media said, citing sources at a press conference held by the Shaanxi province government.

Thirteen local officials, including Zhu Julong, deputy head of the province’s forestry bureau, and its top wildlife official Wang Wanyun, were sacked, Xinhua said.

Zhou Zhenglong, the farmer who claimed to have taken the photo using a digital camera, was arrested on suspicion of fraud, Xinhua said, after police seized a picture of a tiger which he borrowed from a farmer in another village to produce the photos.

The scandal has captivated local media and many Chinese who have viewed the saga as symbolic of common people’s lack of trust in local authorities.

China has been rocked by a number of major scandals involving official endorsement of photos of rare wildlife in recent years.

In February, the chief editor of a Chinese newspaper quit after one its photographers faked a prize-winning photo of endangered Tibetan antelopes appearing unfazed by a passing train on the Qinghai-Tibet railway. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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