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Leopard cat spotted in Southern Taiwan’s Chiayi County for first time in 24 years

Fewer than 1,000 leopard cats believed to be remaining

A National Chiayi University student's camera located a leopard cat in Chiayi County.

A National Chiayi University student's camera located a leopard cat in Chiayi County. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Camera footage by a student accidentally revealed the presence of the rare leopard cat (石虎) in the mountains of Chiayi County for the first time in 24 years.

The animal is threatened with extinction, with fewer than 1,000 estimated to be living on the island, most often in isolated mountain areas from Nantou County in Central Taiwan to Miaoli County in the north. In some cases, the presence of leopard cats has only been recorded because they were fatally hit by a car.

A student from National Chiayi University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources set up 15 infrared cameras in a remote part of Zhongpu (中埔) Township in Chiayi County for a year as part of her research into local mammals, the university said.

The camera captured the image of the lone leopard cat at around 4 a.m. on May 15, the Central News Agency reported.

While no other animals of the same species were found, the footage was enough to excite university staff, since no leopard cat had been spotted in the region for 24 years.

During the Japanese colonial period, from 1895 to 1945, the animal lived all over the island, but during the past decade, only the area from Miaoli to Nantou, and including Greater Taichung and Changhua County, has been known as providing a habitat to the shy creatures.

The last time Chiayi County recorded a find was in 1994, when an animal was caught inside a trap in the scenic Alishan area, CNA reported.

The leopard cat or Prionailurus bengalensis chinensis weighs between 3 and 6 kilograms, and feeds mostly on mice and rats