According to scientists and conservationists, our planet is currently undergoing the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals and species going extinct at up to 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate.
Yet, even though they are in grave danger, we choose to believe that maybe it is not too late for everyone.
The recent spotting of the Formosan clouded leopard, a rare species of large cat, in Taiwan, was more than great news for all, as it hadn’t been officially sighted since 1983, and in 2013, it was declared extinct.
Historical records of this leopard date back to around the 13th century, when indigenous people brought its pelts to trade at the busy markets of port cities like Tainan. It is believed that the only non-indigenous person to have ever seen such a leopard was the Japanese anthropologist Torii Ryūzō, in 1900.
However, it has been seen in the wilderness by many people across the archipelago’s southeast, and it had been spotted prowling in the countryside near Taitung County’s Daren Township.
The Paiwan tribal authorities had formed indigenous ranger groups which are supposed to patrol the area and guard sensitive areas. They saw the leopard, known as Li’uljaw, which also holds a sacred status for locals when it suddenly climbed a tree before scrambling up a cliff to hunt for goats.
The Asian cat was again seen by another group when it darted past a scooter before quickly climbing a tree and disappearing from sight. This find is of extremely important significance for the local people in the area, and they are now holding tribal meetings to determine their next steps.
Tribal members believe they could stop the hunting by outsiders, and the elders of the village urge authorities to end logging and other activities that harm the land. National Taitung University’s Department of Life Science, professor Liu Chiung-hsi says:
“I believe this animal still does exist.”
According to Taiwan News:
“Pan Chih-hua (潘志華), head of the Alangyi’s tribal conference, confirmed to CNA on Saturday that the men from his village did indeed spot the Formosan clouded leopard in the wild, but were reluctant to disclose the time and location of their sightings.
Liu said it was no surprise that the animal has not been seen by a human being in more than two decades because it is vigilant and cannot be trapped or easily caught by hunters in the wild.”
Professor Liu also noted that he has met hunters from the indigenous Bunun people who admitted capturing the animal several times in the late 1990s but burnt the bodies in order to protect them from any consequences due to violating Taiwan’s Wildlife Conservation Act.
A team of Taiwanese and U.S. zoologists surveyed the region during the period from 2001 and 2013 and did not see any of these leopards, so they eventually declared that the Formosan clouded leopard had officially gone extinct.
This is a Formosan clouded leopard from Taiwan, it was thought to be extinct until it was spotted this week. The last time it was seen was 1983 pic.twitter.com/ijme0W7VvQ
— Nature, You Lit! (@NatureSuperLit) March 1, 2019
However, according to IFL Science:
“In January of this year, Taiwan’s Forestry Bureau released its latest Schedule of Protected Wildlife and the Formosan clouded leopard is still listed as category I. Chao Ren-fang, a professor at the Institute of Biology at I-Shou University, who was involved in the conservation listing review, told the Central News Agency: “It would be a big event to remove the Formosa clouded leopard from the list.” It would require taking into consideration societal perceptions as there could be a backlash from the indigenous community, he added.”
“Although this situation has drawn comparisons with the Tasmanian tiger (thylacine), the Australian marsupial constantly spotted by surprised Aussies despite being declared extinct in 1936, it’s not impossible for an animal to remain hidden for years and then nonchalantly pop up again – it happened only last week when a giant tortoise last seen in 1906, and thought eaten to extinction, appeared on an island in the Galápagos. “