South China tigers have been bred in captivity
A rare South China tiger has been seen in the wild for the first time in decades, according to reports from China's official Xinhua news agency.
The sighting, which came after a farmer handed in some pictures, surprised researchers who feared the tiger was extinct.
Experts have now confirmed that the photographs do show a young, wild South China tiger.
The tiger is critically endangered and was last sighted in the wild in 1964.
The farmer, who took the pictures at the beginning of this month, lives in Shaanxi province.
Experts have said that no more than 20 to 30 of the tigers were believed to remain in the wild, but none have been spotted in decades, with many fearing that a small number of captive-born tigers were all that remained.
The population of the South China tiger, the smallest tiger subspecies, was believed to number 4,000 in the early 1950s.
But numbers were greatly reduced after China's Communist leader Mao Zedong labelled the elusive felines "pests" and ordered an extermination campaign.
The animal has also fallen victim to the decimation of China's natural environment and the elimination of its natural prey.
The South China Tiger is one of six remaining tiger subspecies. Three other tiger subspecies, the Bali, Java, and Caspian tigers, have all become extinct since the 1940s, according to tiger experts.
BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Rare China tiger seen in the wild