Katya Molodtsova, a Shutterstock contributor, drew an illustration of a Leopard and made it to the headlines of Taiwan’s media in 2019. The controversy begins with the “illustration of a Leopard”. The Tourism Bureau and Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) hired a designer, Chiang Meng-chih, to design the trains of the Jiji Line as a “leopard cat” conservation project.
Chiang Meng-chih then purchased the Leopard illustrations from Shutterstuck (she admitted later) as leopard cat and put in her design for the interior of the train. “Wow! I didn’t expect to see my illustration in such news. And yes, when I drew this illustration, it was just a Leopard, not a Leopard Cat.” Katya said when she found out that her illustrations have been used.
After all these, Katya realized why this “Leopard Cat” is so important to Taiwan. “I studied a lot of information about the Leopard Cat and found out that it is an endangered species and there are only about 500 of them left and it gave me more confidence in my decision to draw them.” She then created 3 images of the “real” Leopard Cat, without charge for the Tourism Bureau, Taiwan Railways or even for endanger programs to use.
Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small wild cat native to continental South, Southeast and East Asia. Since Taiwan is an island, there are relatively high proportion of endemic species. Taiwanese Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis chinensis) is the only living native species of Feloidea (wild cat) in Taiwan. Leopard Cat is now distributed in lowland hills in the central part of Taiwan, and of course, listed as an endangered species. Taiwanese Leopard Cat has it name, Shihu, in Mandarin meaning of “Stone Tiger”.
Nowadays, there are less than 500 Leopard Cats left in Taiwan. Their natural habitat is highly overlapped with human’s, therefore, their territories often be included in development projects. The destruction of their habitats leads to road kill. There are approximately 13 road kills every year from 2015 to 2018, but in 2019, the number dramatically increased to 31 of Leopard Cats kills (statistic from Taiwan Roadkill Observation Network).
Aside from the road kills, Leopard Cats are also poisoned by chicken farm owners since they hunt chickens for being an apex predator. After the extinction of Taiwan’s Formosan Clouded Leopard, Taiwan or the world can’t afford another loss of any species. (Read more: Can Taiwan’s Formosan clouded leopard claw its way back from extinction?)