TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The latest reported sightings of the Formosan clouded leopard are adding to the reluctance by scholars and indigenous tribes to remove the animal from the endangered species list and declare it extinct, despite the lack of an officially confirmed sighting in over thirty years, according to CNA.
On Jan. 19 of this year, the Forestry Bureau released its latest "Schedule of Protected Wildlife" (保育類野生動物名錄), and conservation groups and indigenous organizations have paid close attention as to whether the Formosan clouded leopard would be kept on the list or officially declared extinct. The leopard has become a symbol of Taiwan's ecological conservation indicators and is a sacred spirit to the Paiwan tribe.
In the latest list, the Formosan clouded leopard was still officially listed as Category I Endangered Species. In an interview with CNA, a professor at the Institute of Biology at I-Shou University, Chao Ren-fang (趙仁方), who participated in the review of the conservation list, said "It would be a big event to remove the Formosa clouded leopard from the list, which would require the approval of mammal teachers."
Chao said that the Formosan clouded leopard is a symbol of all of Taiwan's endemic species and they would need to carefully consider societal perceptions before removing it from the list.
Furthermore, he said that people have been hearing about the clouded leopard for 20 years, and there would be no way to prove it was extinct if an announcement was made. Chao said that the moment a declaration of its extinction was released, there would be a big backlash, especially among the indigenous community.
"This is an embarrassing problem, and the conservationist community is reluctant to face it or announce its extinction," said Chao.
Representative of Hu Family from Red Leaf Village showing pelt of Formosan clouded leopard. (CNA image)
Shia Jung-sheng (夏榮生), director the Forestry Bureau's Conservation Department, said that before the leopard is delisted or its status is adjusted, experts and scholars will be invited to discuss the matter, reconfirm the findings, and determine how long to wait before making an official announcement. Basically, there is currently no definite consensus among domestic and international scholars as to the extinction or continued existence of the creature, said Shia to CNA.
Shia said that there is no definite conclusion over the extinction of the species, and Taiwan currently has no mechanism to declare an animal extinct. She said that in the future, scholars and experts will be consulted to make arrangements for relevant exchanges and discussions on the matter.
The last officially verified sighting of the leopard by Taiwanese authorities was in 1983, according to local media reports.
From 1990 to 1993, Dr. Pei Chia-chi (裴家騏) and Chiang Po-jen (姜博仁) led a field survey on Formosan clouded leopards and other large and medium-sized animals in the Dawushan Nature Reserve. During the survey, a total of 400 cameras captured 16,000 photos, and 232 scent stations were continuously in place, but there was not a single trace of the elusive leopard detected.
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 the group of scientists to declare it officially extinct in 2013.
Well-known ecologist and National Taitung University of Department of Life Sciences professor Liu Chiung-hsi (劉炯錫) told CNA that he thinks "clouded leopards still exist." During a visit with an elder of the Paiwan tribe, he was told that the animal is so secretive and adept at climbing the trees, it is very difficult to find.
The Paiwan elder said that they would need 10 hunters to surround the leopard from all sides before they would have a chance of capturing it. Given its secretive nature and ability to evade hunters, it's not surprising that one has not been reported as being caught by hunters in years, said Liu.
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.