13 year search for Taiwan’s top predator comes up empty-handed

13 year search for Taiwan’s top predator comes up empty-handed

After 13 years of searching for the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura), once hopeful scientists say they believe the cat is likely extinct. For more than a decade scientists set up over 1,500 camera traps and scent traps in the mountains of Taiwan where they believed the cat may still be hiding out, only to find nothing.

“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 said, as reported by Focus Taiwan.

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Captive clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). The Formosan clouded leopard was a subspecies of this animal . Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

The Formosan clouded leopard was a subspecies of the clouded leopard. Found only in Taiwan, the medium sized-cat (weighing about 20-45 pounds) was the top predator until hunting for its skin and widespread deforestation likely led to its extinction. Only one predator is bigger than the clouded leopard on the island, the Formosan black bear (Ursus thibetanus formosanus); but the bear, which is currently listed as Endangered, is an omnivore.

The last records of Formosan clouded leopards occurred in the late 1980s. Scientists have floated the idea of reintroducing the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) from mainland Asia back onto the island, but no official moves have been made. For the Rukai, an indigenous tribe in Taiwan, the Formosan clouded leopard was a spiritually-important animal; they believed deities would often take the form of clouded leopards.

Two clouded leopard species are found in Asia. One survives on mainland asia, Neofelis nebulosa. While another species, the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) is found in Sumatra and Borneo. Both are listed as Vulnerable and are threatened by poaching for skins and deforestation.

This article was written for Mongabay.com and reposted on Focusing on Wildlife.

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