Sunday, 29 April 2012

Tiger Zhou is Free!

One of the photos Zhou Zhenglong took of the "tiger"
After spending two-and-a-half years in jail, farmer Zhou Zhenglong is now free.

What was his conviction? For faking photographs of the rare South China tiger, thought to be extinct since the late 1990s in Shaanxi province.

He was was sentenced to jail in May 2010 after he was held in police custody for six months.

The 2007 event was a huge fiasco which I wrote about here, and not just because the photo was manipulated, but also how the government handled the whole incident.

Forestry officials originally wanted to give anyone who had photographic evidence of the tiger 20,000RMB ($3,173.76) and Zhou set about trying to find the tiger.

When he gave the authorities the photos, they insisted the images were real even though people online were skeptical. It all came to a head when an internet user proved the photograph looked the same as the one on his wall calendar.

It turns out Zhou used a poster of the tiger and placed the paper cutout in a forest near his home and snapped photos at different angles and distances.

He was awarded the monetary prize and the government immediately promoted the event, basically showing the province was environmentally friendly and conserving animals. There were tourism billboards put up and a press conference was held in Shaanxi.

In the end more than 16 government officials were penalized for the scandal, some sacked or demoted, and Zhou was convicted of fraud and illegal possession of firearms.

More than two years later the scandal has still hurt the province's credibility.

Dr Long Yongcheng, a leading primatologist and member of the Primatological Society, said that after the South China tiger scandal, the Ministry of Forestry became reluctant, if not afraid, to announce the discovery of a new species, a new snubnosed monkey

He urged the government to hold a press conference about it to increase public awareness of the animal, but at the last minute the event scheduled in Kunming was cancelled at the last minute due to concerns from Beijing about "another 'Tiger' Zhou incident".

"Tiger Zhou was a painful sting for the government, and it still hurts," Long said.

Meanwhile, Zhou's wife, Luo Dacui told Huaxi Metropolis Daily in a report yesterday that her husband was still obsessed with the tiger and was determined to keep finding it.

"We have been married for 30 years, and I know his mentality. When he comes back, he will probably continue looking for the tiger."

While she admitted Zhou had tried to deceive others with his photos, "but this deception was different from others -- different from fake drugs or milk powder. We don't blame him for what he has done," she said.

Sounds like Zhou is determined to find the tiger to redeem himself, but really, he may be looking for the rest of his life in vain.

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