‘Extinct’ Leopard Was Spotted In Taiwan For The First Time In Over 30 Years

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While the environment has been in the news lately, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a little bit of hope in the form of a long-thought-extinct leopard was spotted to be alive and thriving by multiple witnesses in Taiwan.

The Formosan clouded leopard, also known as Neofelis nebulosa brachyuran, which is a subspecies of the clouded leopard on the island of Taiwan. Since there had been no confirmed sightings of it in the wild since 1983, the species was declared extinct in 2013.

According to Taiwan News however, Taiwanese scholars have been reluctant to remove it from the endangered species list because of rare but occasional sightings, like the recent ones by villagers who say they spotted the elusive leopard on two different occasions in 2018.

A specimen of Formosan clouded leopard in the National Taiwan Museum c. 2013. SSR2000/Creative Commons

Rangers reported seeing more than one leopard hunting goats up on a cliff in Taitung County’s Daren Township. There was another group sighting reported, where a leopard was spotted near their scooters before it ran up a tree and disappeared.

According to Yahoo News, Kao Cheng-chi, the President of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association and village chief of the Paiwan Tribe, confirmed that rangers set up a patrol around the area surrounding the Alangyi Village last June, after sightings were of the creature were reported.

The leopard has become a symbol of Taiwan’s conservation efforts. It is also considered a sacred spirit to the Paiwan tribe. The chief of the village said that a meeting has been held in order to discuss the sightings, and better plan how to keep outsiders from attempting to hunt them or harm them.

During January of this year, Taiwan’s Forestry Bureau released its Schedule of Protected Wildlife, and the leopard was still listed on it as category I. A professor with the Institute of Biology at I-Shou University, Chao Ren-fang, has been involved with the conservation listing, and said to the Central News Agency, “It would be a big event to remove the Formosa clouded leopard from the list.”

He also added that “It would require taking into consideration societal perceptions as there could be a backlash from the indigenous community.”

This photo of a Taiwanese member of the indigenous community wearing what is thought to be a Formosan clouded leopard pelt was taken by Japanese anthropologist Torii Ryūzō circa 1900. University of Tokyo/Creative Commons

The Formosan clouded leopard has long been a mysterious creature. There are historical records that date back to the 13th century which documents the indigenous people bringing pelts into port cities like Tainan, in order to trade. However, other than a Japanese anthropologist, Torii Ryūzō, in 1900, there are no records of a non-indigenous person ever witnessing a live one.

Back in 1986, an interview with 70 indigenous hunters showed that the last confirmed sighting of a leopard was 1983. The leopard was once the second-largest carnivore on the island. A field survey was actually carried out on the leopards as well as other mid-sized animals in the Dawushan Nature Reserve between 1990 and 1993. The study involved 400 cameras, and they captured 16,000 photos, but there was no sign of the elusive felines.

Neofelis nebulosa brachyura, or the Formosan clouded leopard, illustrated by Joseph Wolf and published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in 1862. Creative Commons

A 13-year survey conducted from 2001 to 2013 also failed to capture a single sighting – which prompted the extinction declaration.

While the situation has drawn comparisons to the Tasmanian tiger (thylacine), the Australian marsupial which has been constantly surprising Aussies – despite its 1936 extinct declaration – it’s not impossible for an animal to remain hidden for years, only to reappear again as though nothing happened. That same thing only happened last week when a giant tortoise that hasn’t been seen since 1906 – and was believed to be consumed to extinction – reappeared on an island in the Galapagos.

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Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.
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