After a 13 year effort, Taiwanese and U.S. scientists have reached a sad conclusion: the Formosan cloud leopard, a subspecies endemic to Taiwan, has become extinct. As zoologist Chiang Po-jen says in the Taipei Times, “There may be a few of them, but we do not think they exist in any significant numbers.”
The only remaining leopard in Taiwan could very well be a stuffed one in the National Taiwan Museum, zoologist Liu Jian-nan comments. There are two clouded leopards in the Taiwan Zoo, but these have been imported from Asia. A 1910 picture from a Japanese colonist’s is the last piece of evidence for the leopard’s existence in Taiwan.
A 1985 study had also found no trace of the leopard. Clouded leopards can still be found in the Himalayas, but are considered vulnerable to extinction as are those in Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia.
From 2000-2004, Kurtis Pei of Taiwan’s National Pingtung University of Science and Technology and five other researchers searched the country’s jungle, using cameras and catnip-baited hair traps. They looked for paw prints from the tree-dwelling cat (which can grow up to about a meter long) and took 16,000 photos in 400 locations. After gathering all this data in the field, they spent years analyzing it, only to conclude that Taiwan’s clouded leopard is extinct.
The sad news of the disappearance of the Formosan clouded leopard is having one positive result. It is galvanizing more Taiwanese to realize the need to protect wildlife and the environment.
Scientists cite poaching and habitat destruction as the main reasons for the leopard dying out. Economic development and urban growth have been given priority in Taiwan, an island country that is the size of Maryland but with a population of about 23 million, is one of the most densely populated nations in the world. As Chu Tseng-hung, executive director of the conservationist group Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, and other activists note to the Christian Scientist Monitor, the news of the leopard being extinct has made it very clear to residents of Taiwan that the survival of animals and wildlife is “relevant” to their lives.
Scientist Pei says there has been discussion of reintroducing a clouded leopard from Asia into nature in Taiwan, but that much more support is needed. As he emphasizes, “Just for scholars to discuss the issue isn’t that helpful.”
The Formosan black bear is another animal found only in Taiwan — it was voted the most representative wildlife in Taiwan in 2001 — whose survival is uncertain. Can the loss of the Formosan clouded leopard stir people to act now and save another of Taiwan’s indigenous animals before it is too late?
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