“Extinct” Leopard Has Been Spotted in Taiwan For the First Time Since It Vanished 30 Years Ago

Cover Photo: Khaled Azam Noor/Shutterstock

The gorgeous Formosan clouded leopard was presumed extinct after there were no sightings for over 30 years. Until now, that is. Several witnesses have come forward to report seeing the leopard in Taiwan.

The Formosan clouded leopard, also known as Neofelis nebulosa brachyura, is a subspecies of the clouded leopard, which is commonly found in Taiwan.

Once the second-largest carnivore on the island, there have been no reported sightings of the subspecies since 1983. And so, in 2013, the Formosan clouded leopard was listed as extinct.

Turns out, the extinct label may have come too soon. One sighting originated from a group of villagers who said they saw the leopard on two occasions in 2018.

Then, a group of rangers said they saw more than one cat hunting goats on a cliff in Taitung County’s Daren Township. Another group of people riding scooters reported seeing the leopard run off up a tree.

All of these sightings are rather promising, but according to Taiwan News, Taiwanese scholars are not ready to remove the animal from the endangered species list simply because a few people have spotted the majestic creature.

Yahoo News reported that the President of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association along with the village chief of the Paiwan Tribe, Kao Cheng-chi, said that rangers established a patrol around the village where the sightings have been reported.

The patrol was set up around Alangyi Village in June.

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The leopard is symbolic of Taiwan’s conservation markers. In addition, it is a sacred spirit to the Paiwan Tribe. According to the tribe’s chief, they have held meetings to discuss the sightings along with ways to help protect the remaining leopards against people who come trying to hunt them.

In January of 2019, Taiwan’s Forestry Bureau published the latest edition of Schedule of Protected Wildlife. It still lists the Formosan clouded leopard as a Category I Endangered Species.

“It would be a big event to remove the Formosa clouded leopard from the list, which would require the approval of mammal teachers.” said Chao Ren-fang, a professor at the Institute of Biology at I-Shou University.

“It would require taking into consideration societal perceptions as there could be a backlash from the indigenous community,” he added.

“This is an embarrassing problem,” Chao admits. “The conservationist community is reluctant to face it or announce its extinction.”

The director of the Forestry Bureau’s Conservation, Shia Jung-sheng, explained that before any action is taken to delist or change the status of the leopard, a team of experts and scholars will gather to discuss the findings and how they should act.

As of now, there is no official answer as to whether or not experts believe the leopard still exists or is extinct. Furthermore, Taiwan has no measure in place to declare an animal extinct.

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For centuries, the Formosan clouded leopard has been an animal surrounded in mystery.  Since the 13th century, indigenous people have traded their pelts at port cities like Tainan.

Aside from one Japanese anthropologist by the name of Torii Ryūzō who saw the leopard in 1900, no other non-indigenous person has reported seeing a live Formosan clouded leopard.

In 1986, a poll of 70 indigenous hunters found that the last confirmed sighting was in 1983. Locals say it is nearly impossible to spot the tiger as it is fast and good at hiding.

According to the Paiwan elder, it would take at least 10 hunters to surround the leopard if they want any chance of catching it.

Sadly, some Bunun hunters have admitted capturing and killing Formosan clouded leopards as recently as the nineties. They claimed to have burned the bodies out of fear of being caught and punished due to the Wildlife Conservation Act.

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Over the course of three years, 1990 to 1993, 400 cameras were set up throughout the Dawushan Nature Reserve. 16,000 photos were produced, capturing all kinds of wildlife, but no sign of the leopard.

Between 2001 to 2013, another survey was conducted. Yet again, there was no sign of the elusive leopard.

This isn’t the first time an animal has been declared extinct and then spotted. For instance, the Tasmanian tiger (thylacine) is an Australian marsupial that was listed as extinct in 1936. Since then, it has been spotted by numerous shocked Aussies.

Another example is a giant tortoise believed to be extinct due to overhunting for its meat. Then, just a few weeks ago, it was spotted on an island in the Galápagos.