The Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura) was a subspecies of the clouded leopard, endemic to the island of Taiwan in East Asia. It is not very different from the regular clouded leopards that are mainly found in the Himalayas, with the one big difference being the fact that the tail of the Formosan clouded leopard is about half the size of the regular leopard’s tail.
A drawing of the Formosan clouded leopard. The drawing is public domain.
It was the second-largest carnivore in Taiwan when it was still alive, and it could be found hunting small prey in the tropical and subtropical rainforests, as well as in the temperate forests on the island. Like a lot of other predatory mammals, it began to face serious issues as humans began to expand their habitat, and the Formosan clouded leopard became increasingly rare in the second half of the 20th century. Humans kept destroying the habitat of the Formosan clouded leopard, and it eventually slipped into extinction.
The last confirmed existence of the clouded leopard was 30 years ago in 1989, and since then no one could prove that the species was still alive. However, there’s still a lot of forest habitat in Taiwan, and many people believe it to still be out there. A research team lead by Po-Jen Chiang decided to look for it, and put out hundreds of camera traps to look for it between 2000 and 2004. However, none of the cameras got anything that could be identified as a clouded leopard in the 13,354 photos they captured, so most people have accepted this as enough evidence to conclude it to be extinct. IUCN officially declared it extinct, but the Taiwanese government has yet to accept the extinction, so it's still considered Critically Endangered by the country.
Formosan clouded leopard specimen at the National Taiwan Museum. Photo by SSR2000, published with the CC BY-SA 3.0.
So there has been no evidence for the existence in 30 years, but is this enough to conclusively say that it is no longer alive? There’s no consensus on this, and new alleged sightings have sparked interest in this debate once again.
Two new sightings of the Formosan clouded leopard in 2018
According to Taiwan News, two groups wildlife rangers have apparently observed the Formosan clouded leopards, on two independent occasions. One of the sightings was of a leopard hunting goats on a cliff, while the other sighting was of a leopard on the prowl in the jungle, dashing right past a scooter and climb up into a tree.
According to them, both these sightings was clearly a Formosan clouded leopard, and not just a random moving animal that might have been a leopard.
I have always been very fascinated by the sightings of allegedly extinct animals, partly because of the mystery of finding something that is believed to not exist anymore, and partly because I really love reading positive conservation news in the midst of all the bad news we get. It’s also very cool to be reminded that there is still a lot of stuff out in the wild that we don’t really know anything about.
Despite two sightings of the clouded leopard subspecies I would say that it’s unlikely that we get any real evidence of the Formosan clouded leopard in the near future, considering that fact that several scientific expeditions have failed to bring any evidence. I would expect them to at least have found some footprints in the last 30 years if it was really still extant. However, I hope that I am wrong and that we get some DNA or footage of the animal in the next few years.
- Chiang, P. J. (2007). Ecology and conservation of Formosan clouded leopard, its prey, and other sympatric carnivores in southern Taiwan (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech).
- Grassman, L., Lynam, A., Mohamad, S., Duckworth, J.W., Bora, J., Wilcox, D., Ghimirey, Y., Reza, A. & Rahman, H. 2016. Neofelis nebulosa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T14519A97215090. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T14519A97215090.en. Downloaded on 06 March 2019.
- «'Extinct' Formosan clouded leopard spotted in E. Taiwan» by By Keoni Everington,Taiwan News; https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3644433