Authorities are working to verify claims that a 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 last confirmed sighting of the animal was in the 1980s, office deputy director Huang Chium-tse (黃群策) said.
Huang was responding to an article last week in the Chinese-language Apple Daily written by National Taitung University Department of Life Science professor Liu Chiung-hsi (劉炯錫), in which he revealed the reported sightings.
“I believe the animal does still exist,” Liu said on Saturday, when asked about the article.
Liu cited Kao Cheng-chi (高正治), president of the Austronesian Community College Development Association and a Paiwan village head, as saying that people from Alangyi Village (阿塱壹) in Taitung spotted what they thought was a clouded leopard in June last year.
They were on a community patrol when they saw the animal, which Paiwan people call Li’uljaw, pounce from a tree onto a mountain goat, Kao told Liu.
Another village resident described seeing a clouded leopard dart past a scooter before going back into the woods, Kao said.
Following the incidents, a village meeting was held last month to investigate the sightings and prohibit outsiders from hunting in the area, Liu wrote, citing Kao.
Pan Chih-hua (潘志華), head of the Alangyi tribal conference, on Saturday said that men from the village did indeed spot a Formosan clouded leopard in the wild, but were reluctant to disclose the time and location of the sightings.
Liu said it was no surprise that the animal has not been seen in more than two decades, because it is vigilant and cannot be easily trapped.
However, when he was researching the Bunun’s hunting culture in 1998, several Bunun people said that they had captured Formosan clouded leopards, but had burned their bodies for fear of being prosecuted under the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法).
The claimed sightings was big news for the Forestry Bureau, but as Formosan clouded leopards have not been seen for many years, the agency needs to verify the reports, Huang said.
The office respected the actions of the tribe to protect its resources, he said, but added that a scientific investigation was needed before a conclusion could be made.
The bureau would consult with the village to investigate the sightings, he said.
The Formosan clouded leopard was featured on an Animal Planet documentary called Extinct or Alive in July last year.
According to numerous media reports, the last confirmed sighting of the animal in Taiwan was in 1983.
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