by Jiayi Chew
JianNan-Liu is assistant professor at the department of forestry and natural resources (National Chiayi University of Taiwan). He received dual academic training in both forestry and wildlife ecology and has more than 20 years of research experience.
What is it about with the struggle of the leopard cats in Taiwan?
Everything started about 15 years ago, when a group of teachers found a wounded leopard cat on the side of a country road. The cat was send to the Endangered Species Research Center where I was working at that time. The encounter with the cat inspired me to do some research on the distribution of the leopard cats in Taiwan and I found out that we didn’t have much details and scientific research about this species. Since then, I felt the strong urge to engage in research on the leopard cats of Taiwan. The work that my lab has conducted so far includes studies about the distribution of this species, it’s living ecosystems and we also did some studies on the home range of the leopard cats, using wild life tracking technologies, such as GPS collars. Right now the population size of the leopard cats in Taiwan is estimated to comprise less than 1000 individuals. They are now listed as an endangered species in Taiwan.
Why should we engage in preserving the leopard cat?
In Taiwan, leopard cats are considered as the top of the food chain and they are playing the main role as the apex predator in balancing the lowland ecosystems of Taiwan. If the leopard cat becomes extinct or vulnerable, it will definitely affect the ecosystems. Hence, it is very important to preserve this species.
Are there any conflicts between the habitats of the leopard cat and human settlements?
There are three main nature habitats of the leopard cat in Taiwan: Taichung City, Miao Li County and Nantou County. All of these areas are fairly dense populated. The proximity between human settlements and the animals causes conflicts. Especially around poultry farming. The rising attacks of leopard cats on livestock presents an economic threat to local farmers. This has led to a situation where leopard cats are perceived as a pest by local communities, resulting in instances where people installed illegal traps that wounded and/or killed many cats. Human infrastructure causes a further threat to the animals. An increase in the construction of highways reduced their natural habitat significantly. The pressure for rapid development and economic growth has thus come at the expense of secured habitats for a number of species in Taiwan, the leopard cat being one that is particularly threatened. This is not an ideal pathway. I belief that we should find ways to harmonize economic development and the wellbeing of our local ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Eco-farming and eco-tourism are two promising alternatives to better handle the situation around leopard cat habitats.
Do you have any further thoughts on the conflict between humans and wildlife?
In think that the government should find better ways to deal with trade-offs between social, ecological and economic aspects in our current development model. A step in the right direction would be to convert the nature habitat of the leopard cats into protected areas. Also, the government should promote ecological alternatives to usage of environmental destructive anti-herbicides and anti-pesticides on farms located close to the habitat of the leopard cat. Such an approach could be achieved by compensation payments to farmers. I further think that the government also needs to reconsider the needs on having more construction programs that may or may not have the great impact on improving people living conditions but do negatively impact nature and wildlife. And finally, we need to put more emphasis on environmental education and do a better job as scientists in approaching local communities to inform them about the necessity of wildlife an ecosystem preservation.
For comments or questions please contact the author: jnliu(a)mail.ncyu.edu.tw
Full Introduction of professor Liu: http://www.ncyu.edu.tw/forestry_eng/content.aspx?site_content_sn=47823
For more background info visit also: “Children of the Earth: The Leopard Cat Cubs’ Journey Home”, available on Youtube under: