Sightings of thought-to-be-extinct Taiwanese leopard need verifying, say officials

Taitung Forestry Office working to verify claims that a Formosan Clouded Leopard has been sighted in southern Taiwan

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Specimen of Neofelis nebulosa brachyura in National Taiwan Museum

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

TAIPEI (CNA) -- Authorities are working to verify claims that the Formosan clouded leopard, a species native to Taiwan and thought to be extinct, was sighted in the wild in Taitung County, the Taitung Forest District Office said.

The leopard has not been seen in Taiwan in over decades, according to office deputy director Huang Chun-tse (黃群策), and Huang said the agency is working on confirming the sightings.

Huang was responding to an article in Apple Daily earlier this week written by National Taitung University's Department of Life Science professor Liu Chiung-hsi (劉炯錫), in which he revealed the alleged sightings.

"I believe the animal still does exist," Liu said Saturday when asked about his article.

In his account, Liu cited Kao Cheng-chi (高正治), president of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association and village chief of the Paiwan tribe, as saying that people from Alangyi Village in Taitung spotted what they felt was the extinct leopard in June 2018.

They were on a community patrol when they saw the leopard, referred to as "Li'uljaw" by the Paiwan people, pounce on a mountain goat from a tree, Kao told Liu.

Another member of the village also described seeing a leopard darting past a scooter before disappearing back into the woods, Kao recalled.

Following the incidents, a village meeting was held last month to further investigate the leopard sightings and prohibit outsiders from hunting in the area, Liu wrote, citing Kao.

Pan Chih-hua (潘志華), head of the Alangyi's tribal conference, confirmed to CNA on Saturday that the men from his village did indeed spot the Formosan clouded leopard in the wild, but were reluctant to disclose the time and location of their sightings.

Liu said Saturday it was no surprise that the animal has not been seen by a human being in more than two decades because it is vigilant and cannot be trapped or easily caught by hunters in the wild.

The professor said, however, that when he was researching the Bunun people's hunting culture back in 1998, some Bunun came forward to admit that they had captured Formosan clouded leopards, but had burned their bodies for fear of being prosecuted under the Wildlife Conservation Act.

The claims of sightings of the animal was big news for the Forestry Bureau, but the fact that the Formosan clouded leopard has not been seen in Taiwan for the past decades meant the agency still needs to verify the sources, Huang said.

The Taitung Forest District Office respected the actions of the tribe to protect its resources, he said, but emphasized that a scientific investigation was needed before coming to a conclusion.

The bureau will actively consult with the tribe in investigating the sightings, he said.

The Formosan clouded leopard was featured on the Animal Planet's television documentary "Extinct or Alive" in July last year.

According to numerous media reports, the last time the animal was officially spotted by authorities in Taiwan was in 1983.