By John R. Platt
Thirteen years, 1,500 infrared cameras, hundreds of catnip-baited hair traps and an almost incalculable number of hours in the field have confirmed what scientists have long feared: the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura) is in all likelihood extinct. The subspecies, endemic to Taiwan, was wiped out by poaching, trade in its pelts during the Japanese occupation, habitat destruction and elimination of its natural prey.
“There is little chance that the clouded leopard still exists in Taiwan,” zoologist Chiang Po-jen told the Taipei Times this week. Although he seems to hold hope that a few of the cats might still survive, he said “we do not think they exist in any significant numbers.”
Chiang, a research fellow with the Mammalogical Society of Taiwan, was part of a team of zoologists from Taiwan and the U.S. who have been looking for the Formosan clouded leopard since 2001. The 13-year quest was an extension of earlier work by Chiang, whose doctoral dissertation (pdf) covered the first four years of the search.
The news of this extinction isn’t unexpected, as there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting of the Formosan clouded leopard in more than three decades. One dead cat was supposedly photographed at the bottom of an aboriginal trap in 1983, but that photograph was later discredited and the negative disappeared, according to a 2009 report from Taiwan Review. Pei Jai-chyi, a professor at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology who also participated in the 13-year search, told the magazine that Taiwanese aboriginals did not use pits for hunting, preferring snares instead. He suspected the photo was actually taken in Borneo and depicted a similar-looking species. More....