Video of "wild" China tiger reported to be faked

BEIJING, March 25 (Reuters Life!) - A Chinese TV journalist faces prosecution after he sought to pass off video footage of a circus tiger as evidence that a wild tiger lived in a forest park in southern China, local media reported on Tuesday.

It marked the latest in a series of cases in which China's media have questioned the authenticity of purported images of endangered animals.

Wu Hua, a reporter with a local television station in Pingjiang county in southern Hunan province, asked wildlife authorities on Wednesday to verify the identity of a tiger he said he had "unintentionally captured on film", Xinhua news agency said.

Local media had speculated that the animal might be the wild South China tiger, a sub-species long feared extinct, and the subject of a separate controversy involving photographs allegedly taken in China's northern Shaanxi province.

After a four-day probe, investigators identified Wu's tiger as a Siberian tiger belonging to a touring circus, Xinhua said.

"According to local villagers, many people had seen a cage enter the scenic area," the Beijing News reported, citing investigators, who had also noted tracks from a cage at the site where the video was shot.

The owner of the forest park where the tiger had been filmed confessed to investigators that the footage had been rigged, the paper said.

"(The journalist's) intention wasn't to do an animal report, but to do an advertisement for the (park)," the paper quoted an investigator as saying.

The reports did not explain the journalist's motive, but quoted a media academic as saying that there were "benefits" in obtaining official verification of the endangered South China tiger found in the wild.

The probe into the case was continuing but the people involved would face "at least" the charge of illegally transporting an endangered animal, the report said, citing a wildlife official surnamed Wang.

The case echoed a recent controversy surrounding photographs produced by a farmer in Shaanxi province of a tiger he said were taken in the forest near his village.

A local forestry official said they proved the South China tiger still existed in the wild, but he later apologised for hastily verifying the photographs after others denounced them as fake.

Last month, the chief editor of a Chinese newspaper quit after one of its photographers reportedly faked a prize-winning photograph of endangered Tibetan antelopes appearing unfazed by a passing train on the Qinghai-Tibet railway. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Ken Wills and Sophie Hardach)