Taipei, Taiwan. February 23rd, 2019. In 2013 a research team consisting of experts from the U.S. and Taiwan concluded that after a 13-year investigation the Formosan clouded leopard was gone and would never return to the wooded hillsides of its home on the island.
A rare and sacred animal among the tribal groups of Taiwan, their numbers were battered by habitat-loss and poaching for their beautiful coats. The last confirmed sighting was logged in 1983.
Now however, Alangyi Village rangers recently spotted what they believed to be a Formosan clouded leopard hunting goats on a cliff in Taitung County’s Daren Township in southeast Taiwan.
Kao Cheng-chi, President of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association and village chief of the Paiwan Tribe, said that in June of last year, the Alangyi Village set up a team of rangers to patrol traditional areas.
One ranger described clearly seeing a leopard climbing a tree, before scrambling up a cliff to hunt goats. Another team member described seeing a leopard darting past a scooter before scurrying up a tree and going out of sight.
These signs were immensely encouraging to the rangers, and after the sighting the Alangyi tribal community immediately petitioned the Forestry Bureau to cease all logging and disruptive activities and to help them enforce the prohibition of outsiders entering the region.
Sightings Taken Seriously
While the world at large considers the Formosan clouded leopard extinct, Taiwanese officials have dragged their heels for over 20 years; not wanting to consign one of the holiest animals among the indigenous people and a symbol of the unique ecology of Taiwan to the pages of history.
Despite their reluctance to agree with their colleagues from the U.S. evidence of the cat’s survival is stark. From 1990 to 1993, Dr. Pei Chia-chi and Chiang Po-jen led a field survey on Formosan clouded leopards and other large and medium-sized animals in the Dawushan Nature Reserve.
During the survey, a total of 400 cameras captured 16,000 photos, and 232 scent stations were continuously in place, but there was not a single trace of the elusive leopard detected.
Huang Chun-tse, deputy director of the Forestry Bureau’s Taitung District Office said the Forestry Bureau greatly values this news, as there had been no sightings of the animal in decades. Huang said eyewitness accounts need to be taken seriously and positively verified.
Huang also said that the bureau respects the actions of the tribe to protect its resources, but emphasized that a scientific investigation is needed. He said the bureau will actively consult with the tribe on investigating the sightings.