Wed, Jun 12, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The sacrifice of a county mascot

It was hard to take Miaoli County Councilor Han Mao-hsien (韓茂賢) seriously as he made headlines over the past few months with outrageous comments against the conservation of the endangered leopard cat.

From insinuating that the endangered felines are being hit by vehicles because their population is too large, to urging Miaoli County Commissioner Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) to ignore environmental rules and proceed with construction projects, it just seemed like crazy talk, while the media branded him worse than Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).

However, it seems like most of his fellow councilors share his views. The Miaoli County Council last week rejected a bill on protecting the endemic wildcat species by a 9-25 vote.

While members of the public and other politicians have called for a new bill, Hsu yesterday said that the council would not be drafting another soon.

Last week’s vote came after the bill had been watered down to have little binding power and cover only the Miaoli County Government, leaving townships and private businesses unchecked.

It also stated that developers “should consult” with experts if their project was of a certain size and a certain distance from the cats’ natural habitat. No penalties were specified.

Opponents of the bill trumpeted development rights and tried to whittle down the habitat area — one councilor even suggested rounding up the leopard cats on a reservation, but that only led Han Mao-hsien to sound off again, saying that the county should not be able to designate habitat boundaries without a property owner’s approval.

They made it appear as if the leopard cat is the sole obstacle to the county’s prosperity — and with so many politicians saying that, county residents started believing it.

That the county councilors balked at proposed regulations as weak as this bill shows how short-sighted and callous they are.

The irony of sacrificing the leopard cat’s welfare for the county’s economy is that visitors to the Miaoli Culture and Tourism Bureau’s Web site are greeted by the smiling cartoon leopard cat Maolimiaow (貓裏喵), the county’s official mascot.

The Web site describes the leopard cat as an animal that possesses “an always innocent and cheerful temperament.”

Apparently that is only when there is money involved, and it is sad that this is happening in such a progressive nation.

However, the good news is that the central government continues to press forward.

Minister Without Portfolio Chang Ching-sen (張景森) on Saturday demanded that local authorities consider the effect on leopard cats’ habitats when conducting environmental assessments of development projects.

Chang also directed the Council of Agriculture to conduct a survey of the cats’ habitats, which is to be released online by the end of this year, while the ministries of economics and of transportation and communications are drafting national-level plans to protect the animal.

This needs to be done quickly and must have binding powers, as it is apparent that local authorities prefer to see leopard cats extinct.

The Leopard Cat Association of Taiwan said there are fewer than 500 of the animals nationwide.

Han Mao-hsien has vowed to get away with as much as he can. To counter such politicians, the leopard cats need as much protection as the central government — and the public — can offer.

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