For the last thirteen years, an international team of researchers have been searching out any indication that one of the world’s most majestic animals, the Formosan clouded leopard, was still in existence in its native forests of Taiwan. But now that countless in-the-field observation hours and thousands of infrared cameras have turned up no sign of the rare species, scientists have arrived to a somber conclusion: clouded leopards there are extinct, and have likely been for decades.
“There is little chance that the clouded leopard still exists in Taiwan,” says zoologist Chiang Po-jen in an interview with the Taipei Times.
Formosan clouded leopards, a subspecies of those found on mainland Asia, were once highly sought-after by poachers for their valuable skins. And despite the fact that the last reliable evidence of their continued existence is from a 1910 diary entry, biologists believed that the notoriously elusive animal might have avoided extinction in the years that followed, spurring the more than a decade long study to find them.
And although not even a pawprint was discovered over the intensive search, the story of that likely long-extinct leopard has still left an impression on Taiwanese society.
“A lot of people have said they are disappointed and find our discovery quite regrettable,” Kurtis Pei, of the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology’s Institute of Wildlife Conservation, tells the Christian Science Monitor. “Some say they hope not just to feel regret, but to do something to save other animals.”
Presently, the same factors that contributed to leopard’s decline — like poaching and human encroachment — continue to threaten other species as well. That said, with this recent declaration of extinction, Taiwanese society may be turning towards more active conservation, says Sean McCormack of the Taiwan SPCA:
“When the Taiwanese are aware of issues, they get behind them 100 percent.”