Tue, Jan 01, 2019 - Page 2 News List

Museum promotes leopard cat conservation

DWINDLING NUMBERS:The Leopard Cat Association’s Chen Mei-ting said that the animals are vulnerable to traps and pesticides, while their habitat is being eroded

By Su Meng-chuan and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

An exhibition of leopard cats titled Realm of the Leopard Cat (石虎的美麗家園) is on display at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung with the aim of promoting conservation.

Leopard cats, which are about the size of a house cat, were once commonly seen in low-altitude villages and mountains in Taiwan, the museum said.

Today, they are only found in high numbers in undeveloped mountain regions in Taichung, and Miaoli, Changhua and Nantou counties, it said, adding that as a low-altitude species, they are unable to cross the Central Mountain Range.

Their habitat is quickly shrinking, and cases of them being hit by cars, caught in traps, poisoned or otherwise killed are reported often, it said.

In the past five years, the museum has received more than 20 leopard cats that were killed by cars, the museum said.

Three of those specimens are part of the exhibition, alongside drawings and other items, the museum said, adding that it has included a section explaining how human activity and development have led to the rapid decline in number of several animals — including the clouded leopard, the sika deer and the otter.

It hopes to remind people not to allow leopard cats to suffer the same fate, it said.

In a separate section, the museum has animals on display that share the leopard cat’s habitat: several lowland mammals such as wild boar, masked palm civets and crab-eating mongooses, as well as birds, including mountain-hawk eagles, crested serpent eagles and black-winged kites.

The conservation of leopard cats is crucial to the food chain, the museum said, adding that even the museum’s most optimistic estimates put the number of leopard cats in the wild at fewer than 1,000.

Leopard Cat Association of Taiwan executive director Chen Mei-ting (陳美汀) said she believes the number might be between 400 and 600, while Endemic Species Research Institute director Yang Jia-dong (楊嘉棟) said it might be about 500.

As leopard cats primarily live in low-altitude mountain regions, they are more vulnerable to pesticides, traps or being hit by vehicles, Chen said.

Furthermore, their habitat is constantly being eroded, she said, stressing the urgent need for conservation.

Yang said he is working to promote eco-friendly agricultural practices, such as using fewer traps and pesticides, in hopes of reducing the impact on leopard cats.

The exhibition, launched on Wednesday last week, runs through Sept. 8.

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