'Extinct' Formosan clouded leopard spotted in E. Taiwan

Leopard thought to be extinct spotted in Taitung, Taiwan

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Stock image of a clouded leopard.

Stock image of a clouded leopard. (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- A leopard thought to be extinct, the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura), has been spotted by several witnesses in the wilderness of southeast Taiwan, reported CNA.

Alangyi Village rangers recently spotted what they believed to be a Formosan clouded leopard hunting goats on a cliff in Taitung County's Daren Township. In response, the Taitung District Office of the Forestry Bureau said that this is a very important development and they are actively working on confirming the sighting.

Kao Cheng-chi (高正治), President of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association and village chief of the Paiwan Tribe, said that in June of last year, the Alangyi Village set up a team of rangers to patrol traditional areas. Unexpectedly, two different groups of rangers spotted what the Paiwan people refer to as "Li' uljaw," or what is known in the West as the Formosan clouded leopard, on the prowl in the wild.

One team member vividly described clearly seeing a leopard climbing a tree, before scrambling up a cliff to hunt goats. Another team member described seeing a leopard darting past a scooter before scurrying up a tree and going out of sight.


Illustration of Formosan clouded leopard by Joseph Wolf circa 1862. (Wikimedia Commons)

As a result of the sightings of the sacred and incredibly rare animal, Kao said that members of the Alangyi Village held a tribal meeting to further investigate the sightings of the leopard and to prohibit outsiders from hunting in the area. Alangyi Village elders also asked the Forestry Bureau to stop logging and other disruptive activities.

Community leaders also authorized the Austronesian Community College Development Association to mobilize fund-raising efforts.

In a telephone interview with CNA, Alangyi Village Conference Chairman Pan Chih-hua (潘志華) confirmed that rangers from the village had spotted the Formosan clouded leopard in person, but he was not at the liberty of disclosing the exact time and location of the sightings.

Well-known ecologist and National Taitung University of Department of Life Sciences professor Liu Chiung-hsi (劉炯錫) said the clouded leopard's habits make them very difficult to hunt by an individual. Therefore, the fact that none have been caught by hunters over the past years is not that surprising.


Taxidermy of a Formosan Clouded Leopard. (Image from digitalarchives.tw)

However, Liu said that when he spoke with Bunun hunters in 1998, some came forward to admit that they had captured Formosan clouded leopards, but they had burned their bodies for fear of being prosecuted under the Wildlife Conservation Act.

Huang Chun-tse (黃群策), deputy director of the Forestry Bureau's Taitung District Office said the bureau greatly values this news, as there had been no sightings of the animal in decades. Huang said eyewitness accounts need to be taken seriously and positively verified.

Huang said that the bureau respects the actions of the tribe to protect its resources, but emphasized that a scientific investigation is needed. He said that the bureau will actively consult with the tribe on investigating the sightings.


Rukai man wearing vest made from clouded leopard fur. (Photo by Torii Ryūzō circa 1900)

The only non-indigenous person to ever witness the big cat was Japanese anthropologist Torii Ryūzō in 1900. The last confirmed sighting of the leopard was in 1983, according to numerous media reports.

A 13-year-long survey carried out by a team of zoologists from Taiwan and the U.S. from 2001 to 2013, failed to yield a single sighting of the elusive feline, prompting scientists to declare it officially extinct in 2013.


Specimen of Neofelis nebulosa brachyura in National Taiwan Museum. (Wikimedia Commons)