BEIJING – A Chinese farmer who claimed to have taken photos of a rare tiger was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on Saturday for faking the pictures, a court official and state media said.
Zhou Zhenglong was tried for fraud in Xunyang County People's Court in Shaanxi province Saturday morning and was sentenced a little over five hours later, the Xinhua News Agency said.
An official who answered the telephone at the court said in addition to the prison sentence, Zhou was also fined $290. She refused to give her name or any other details.
According to official media accounts, Zhou, aged 54, heard that a reward of about $146,000 had been offered to anyone who found an endangered South China tiger in the wild, where one had not been seen for more than 20 years.
Last October, he emerged from the woods in Shaanxi with his claim of a tiger sighting, plus dozens of digital photos. The provincial forestry department rewarded him with $2,900.
While first intrigued, China's online community quickly exposed the animal as a paper tiger — an old poster propped up among the trees — because it was too shiny and did not change its position no matter where it was snapped.
The public called for an official investigation when someone produced an old poster with a photo that looked strikingly like Zhou's tiger and posted it online.
Police arrested him after seizing the old tiger poster, which Zhou allegedly borrowed from a farmer in another village, Xinhua said. They also found a wooden model of a tiger claw that Zhou allegedly used to fake a paw print in the snow, it said.