Rare Leopard Thought ‘Extinct’ Spotted in Taiwan’s Wilderness After 36 Years

Formosan clouded leopard

The Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura), a subspecies of leopard that can only be found in Taiwan but was thought to be extinct, was allegedly spotted by several witnesses in a wilderness in southeast Taiwan.

The Taitung District Office of the Forestry Bureau is now investigating the claim made by Alangyi Village rangers stating that they have spotted the once thought extinct Formosan clouded leopard on a cliff in Taitung County’s Daren Township, CNA reported as translated by Taiwan News.

via Flickr / Charles Barilleaux (CC BY 2.0)

The Alangyi Village reportedly set up a team of rangers to patrol the traditional areas in June last year, said Kao Cheng-chi, President of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association and the village chief of the Paiwan Tribe. Two different groups of rangers then allegedly spotted what the locals refer to as “Li’ uljaw,” which is known as the Formosan clouded leopard.

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One team member allegedly saw the leopard climbing a tree before scrambling up a cliff to hunt goats, and another team described “seeing a leopard darting past a scooter before scurrying up a tree and going out of sight.”

Head of the Alangyi’s tribal conference, Pan Chih-hua, confirmed the sightings to CNA last month, but said that he was not at liberty to disclose specific details including the exact time of the sighting and the location.

After the reported sighting, the village held a tribe meeting to further investigate the sightings of the leopard and to prohibit people from hunting in the area. The elders of the village also asked the Forestry Bureau to stop doing any disruptive activities in the area, such as logging.

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The Formosan clouded leopard was first announced to be extinct in 2013 when local and American zoologists tried and failed to find any sighting of the animal. This was during a study that started in 2001 and ended in 2013, Taipei Times reported. Zoologists set up around 1,500 infrared cameras and scent traps in primary locations such as Dawushan, Yushan, and Taroko National Park, to no avail.

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,” Chiang Po-jen, a zoologist, said at the time.

Despite the lack of evidence – and even before the sighting report emerged – many scholars and indigenous tribe members were reluctant to declare the elusive leopard subspecies to be extinct, Taiwan News reported in February.

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The last officially verified sighting of the Formosan clouded leopard was back in 1983.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons / Charles Barilleaux (CC BY 2.0)

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