Thought to be extinct, the breathtaking Formosan Clouded Leopard has supposedly been spotted by several witnesses in Taiwan – 30 years after last seen.
Known as Neofelis nebulosa brachyura, a subspecies of the clouded leopard which is commonly found in Taiwan, it was the second largest known living carnivore on the Island in the 70’s – early 80’s. In 2013, the Formosan was listed as extinct due to its disappearance for more than 30 years.
Well it turns out that this label may have been handed way too soon as a group of villagers claim to have spotted the elusive cat in 2018 on two occasions and a group of rangers have come forth alleging that the cat has been spotted hunting goats near Taitung County’s Daren Township. Some also spotted the cat running up a tree as a scooter passed it by.
Promising as it may be, Taiwan News claims that Taiwanese scholars are not yet prepared to remove the cat from the endangered species list simply due to a few claimed sightings.
Yahoo News has reported that the President of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association along with the current village chief of the Paiwan Tribe, Kao Cheng-chi, claimed that rangers have been dispatched to patrol nearby the originally reported sightings.
The patrollers were stationed around Alangyi Village throughout June.
Symbolic of Taiwan’s conservation markers, additionally a sacred spirit to the Paiwan Tribe and allegedly discussed within the tribe, the Leopard is in heavy threat of hunting due to it’s rarity and measures will have to be put into place to preserve an unknown number of animals.
January 2019 announced the publication of Taiwan’s Forestry Bureau’s latest Schedule of Protected Wildlife edition. Still listed as a Category I endangered species.
“It would be a big event to remove the Formosa clouded leopard from the list, which would require the approval of mammal teachers.” said Chao Ren-fang, a professor at the Institute of Biology at I-Shou University.
“It would require taking into consideration societal perceptions as there could be a backlash from the indigenous community,” he added.
“This is an embarrassing problem,” Chao admits. “The conservationist community is reluctant to face it or announce its extinction.”
Shia Jung-sheng, director of the Forestry Bureau’s Conservation has explained that before action is taken to delist the big cat or change its status, experts and scholars will have to discuss findings and decide how to further act.
For now, no official answer has been given as to whether experts believe the animal does in fact still exist. Furthermore, Taiwan is not equipped to declare an animal extinct.
Mysterious and elusive, the Formosan clouded leopard’s pelts have been traded since the 13th century by indigenous people at port cities like Tainan.
Torii Ryūzō who saw the leopard in 1900 is the last known Japanese anthropologist to spot the animal alive. No other non-indigenous person can stake the same claim.
In the 1980’s, 70 indigenous hunters compiled a poll, finding that the last sighting was confirmed to be in 1983.
Sadly, a few Bunun hunters came forth, admitting to capturing and killing these leopards in the nineties, burning the bodies in fear of being caught and punished.
1990-1993 marked a study captured on film, where cameras were set up throughout the Dawushan Nature Reserve, hoping to spot the Leopard, but sadly from the 16,000 images captured, not one pulled up any results.
From 2001-2013, more surveys were conducted, but yet again, no sign of the elusive leopard.
This is not a singled-out incident of an animal being declared extinct and the popping up again. A good example would be the Tasmanian Tiger (thylacene), a marsupial from Australia which listed as extinct in 1936, has since been spotted by numerous residents.
The giant tortoise thought to once have been extinct due to over hunting has just a few weeks ago, been spotted in the Galápagos Islands region.