A 13-year search for one of the smallest big cats in the world just ended, confirming what many feared: The Formosan clouded leopard is extinct in Taiwan. The more than decade-long search involved 1,500 infrared cameras, baited fur traps, and countless hours of fieldwork by zoologists from Taiwan and the U.S. But habitat loss, poaching and the lack of prey combined to seal the fate of the beautiful cat.

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“There is little chance that the clouded leopard still exists in Taiwan,” zoologist Chiang Po-jen told the Taipei Times. “There may be a few of them, but we do not think they exist in any significant numbers.” The news of the extinction doesn’t come as much of a surprise; the last confirmed sighting of a Formosan clouded leopard in Taiwan was more than three decades ago. The 13-year search was conducted out of genuine belief that the clouded leopard still existed in the wild in Taiwan, but the results proved otherwise.

The Formosan clouded leopard is a subspecies of the main species of clouded leopard, which still exists in the Himalayas, but those too are threatened with habitat loss. Zoologist Chiang Po-jen, who was part of an international team of scientists seeking to discover evidence that the leopard still exists in the wild, told the Taiwan Review that the search for the cat was at least in part a spiritual quest. “A forest with clouded leopards and a forest without clouded leopards mean something different,” explained Chiang. “A forest without clouded leopards is … dead.”

Via Scientific American, TreeHugger and the Taipei Times

Second photo by Flickr user MrGuilt