The Formosan clouded leopard, a subspecies endemic to Taiwan, has become extinct, according to a team of local and US zoologists that had been trying for 13 years to find the animal.
“There is little chance that the clouded leopard still exists in Taiwan. There may be a few of them, but we do not think they exist in any significant numbers,” zoologist Chiang Po-jen (姜博仁) said.
Chiang and Pei Jai-chyi (裴家騏), a professor at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology and a leading figure in the nation’s wildlife conservation movement, invited the team of zoologists in 2001 to search for the tree-dwelling cat in primary forests in Dawushan (大武山), Yushan (玉山) and Taroko National Park.
While searching for the leopard, which typically weighs between 10kg and 20kg, the researchers set up about 1,500 infrared cameras and scent traps in the mountains.
However, no evidence was found to suggest that the leopard still exists, Chiang said.
Pei said the team concluded that the leopard became extinct as a result of poaching and the destruction of its habitat due to development projects.
The results were “disappointing,” said zoologist Liu Jian-nan (劉建男), who is a post-doctoral fellow at the Biodiversity Research Center of Academia Sinica.
He said the search was driven by a belief that the leopard still existed and that the team would discover one in the wild.
Now the only Formosan clouded leopard left in Taiwan is the stuffed specimen at the National Taiwan Museum, Liu said.
The two clouded leopards at Taipei Zoo are imported species from Southeast Asia, he added. The research findings have been submitted to Oryx, an international conservation journal, and are expected to be published in the next six months, Liu said.
Kuan Li-hao (管立豪), a division chief at the Forestry Bureau, said that after the report is published, the Council of Agriculture’s Wildlife Conservation Advisory Committee would seek to verify the information and would decide whether the Formosan clouded leopard should be taken off the government’s list of protected animals.