The Council of Agriculture (COA) on Friday shared the results of a pilot program in central Taiwan's Nantou County, in which local residents can receive government grants to form patrols to help protect Taiwan's endangered leopard cat population.
The program, launched by the COA's Endemic Species Research Institute in 2019, is currently limited to parts of Nantou and Miaoli counties with established populations of leopard cats, which are estimated to number between 300 and 500 nationwide.
The patrols work with local authorities on a range of conservation measures, such as reporting illegal traps, installing automatic cameras, cat-proofing poultry enclosures and helping to catch and release leopard cats found on local farms.
Depending on the nature of their work, they can receive annual grants of between NT$60,000 (US$2,150) and NT$100,000.
The COA announced in a statement released on Friday that nine such civilian patrols have now been created in Nantou's Zhongliao Township, one of which -- run by members of Yongsheng Temple in Yongping Village -- recently helped in the relocation of two leopard cats.
According to the statement, experts at the endemic species institute were able to trap the two animals Jan. 12 and Jan. 26, near chicken coops located within 500 meters of each other, after being notified of their presence by the Yongsheng patrol.
The cats -- named Yong-ge (永哥) and Sheng-ge (盛哥) by the patrol members -- weighed 4.9 and 4.6 kilograms, respectively, and were found to be in good health, the COA said.
After being fitted with tracking collars, Yong-ge was released back into the wild on Feb. 3, while Sheng-ge was released by Minister of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) on Feb. 24, the council said.
Members of the patrol, meanwhile, helped the owners of the farms where the leopard cats were found to set up protective fencing around their enclosures, including reinforcing a coop where Sheng-ge was spotted a second time on March 1.
In the statement, the COA said that Chen met with farmers and patrol members during his visit to Zhongliao Township last month to collect feedback about the program.
So far, the initiative has helped to raise awareness about leopard cat conservation, while also serving as a successful model for government cooperation with local communities, it said. (By Hsiao Po-wen and Matthew Mazzetta)