A Chinese farmer who had been detained for allegedly fabricating photographs of a rare South China tiger in the wild will stand court trial next Tuesday
Zhou will be tried at the People's Court of Xunyang County, southern Shaanxi Province. Apart from fraud, Zhou will also face another charge of illegally possessing ammunition, Friday's The Beijing News reported.
Zhou, 54, from Zhenping county, claimed to have photographed the tiger with a borrowed digital camera on the afternoon of Oct. 3 last year.
Using the photos, first published on Oct. 12, the Provincial Forestry Department claimed at a press conference that those were proof the rare tiger still existed in the wild, and gave Zhou a reward of 20,000 yuan . That also started a controversy.
Internet users accused Zhou of making the tiger images with digital software, and also accused the local authorities of approving the photos to bolster tourism.
The "paper tiger" saga aroused widespread interest after the appearance of a Lunar New Year commemorative poster with a picture of a tiger that bore a striking resemblance to the one in Zhou's pictures.
This led to strong public demands for official proof of authenticity.
The Public Security Department of Shaanxi was forced to admit that Zhou fabricated the rare tiger photos, based on findings from a month-long police investigation, at a press conference held in late June.
The Police have seized an old tiger poster, which he allegedly borrowed from a farmer in another village in September to produce his photos.
They also found a wooden model of tiger claw, which Zhou allegedly used to fabricate a South China tiger paw print in snow, and seized 93 pieces of ammunition for semi-automatic rifles of military use from Zhou's home.
Zhou was then detained on suspicion of fraud. The Provincial Forestry Department revoked the reward it gave to Zhou.
A total of 13 local officials have been penalized in connection with the scandal, including Provincial Forestry Department deputy head Zhu Julong and Sun Chengqian, the official in charge of wildlife preservation Wang Wanyun, and media official Guan Ke, who were sacked for dereliction of duty.
Zhou, who had been kept at the detention center of Shiquan County, also in southern Shaanxi, was moved to the detention center of Xuyang County some two weeks ago to wait for the trial, Friday's The Beijing News quoted Zhou's lawyer Zhang Yong as saying.
The South China tiger, also called the "Amoy" or "Xiamen tiger," is widely believed to be extinct in the wild. It is thought to be the progenitor of all modern tigers, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. It is considered critically endangered, mainly because of a loss of habitat.