Words by Cyu Wen-fong Translated by Candy Chang, Mandy Guo & Anna Yang
Photos provided by Information Bureau of Taichung City Government
In the darkness, a graceful shadow glides through a hillside forest, a fleeting appearance that leaves the impression of beauty on those fortunate to witness it.
The leopard cat–one of God’s more mysterious, unpredictable and beautiful creatures–is today Taiwan’s only remaining wild feline species. With its population diminishing to roughly 500, this endangered animal has also become our responsibility.
A beautiful encounter: Discovering leopard cat tracks
Towards the end of this year, the Taichung World Flora Expo will begin. As part of Expo preparations, the Taichung City Government Agriculture Bureau commissioned National Chung Hsing University (NCHU) to conduct environmental research on the designated Expo sites, starting in January, 2014. As this research was carried out, traces of the protected leopard cat were found in Houli District.
Back in 2003, a leopard cat killed by an animal trap near the old Tai An Railway Station was discovered. Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute researcher Lin Yu-hsiu noted, “The two discoveries of leopard cat traces were separated by more than 10 years. We know that a stable number of leopard cats have remained in Houli’s mountain area because we have still continued to find their tracks recently.”
An unexpected photograph of a leopard cat has motivated Taichung City Mayor Lin Chia-lung to aggressively reduce the footprint of the original Houli Expo venue in order to protect the animal’s habitat. As a result, a decision was made to divide the Expo venue between three sites in Houli, Waipu and Fengyuan districts and the Taichung City Urban Development Bureau and Land Administration Bureau began seeking alternatives. Fortunately, ideal Expo venues were found in Waipu District’s Yongfeng Village and Fengyuan District’s Huludun Park and are sufficient to make up for the original 40-hectare exposition venue.
International recognition earned: Taiwan’s No. 1 mascot
Mayor Lin has stated that the leopard cat protection plan aims to protect the local ecology and environment, help promote the the Flora Expo, and provide overall economic benefits to Taichung. Positive measures to protect wildlife by revising the Expo venue has also earned affirmative from the Association Internationale des producteurs de 1’Horticulure (AIPH), resulting in the official name of the event being upgraded from International Flora Exposition to “Taichung World Flora Exposition”.
Since last year, the leopard cat and Taichung World Flora Expo have been closely integrated. Taichung City Government decided to make the “Leopard Cat Family” and “Omi Horse” the event’s official mascots and a National “Double-Tenth” Day event parade last year also included these mascots led by Mayor Lin.
Among the various ROC National Day holiday parade events, Taichung City’s leopard cat parade garnered 460,000 popularity votes from Taiwanese observers, versus 320,000 votes received by Taipei’s Bravo the Bear mascot. To show his appreciation for supporters, Mayor Lin handed out 300 bubble tea and chicken cutlet combo meals.
The mayor pointed out that another benefit to winning the parade’s mascot popularity contest was educating the public about the leopard cat and Flora Expo. Noting that Bravo the Bear was also a great mascot, Mayor Lin has extended an invitation to Bravo to join the Expo in a show of support and to promote Taiwan’s popular mascots around Taiwan and the world.
Leopard Cat Family: Successful marketing for Taichung City
Following the above parade, many people expressed the hope of seeing more of the Leopard Cat Family. Therefore, Taichung City Government has frequently updated its fan page and established a leopard cat conservation website to help everyone learn more about these wild animals as well as the 2018 Taichung World Flora Exposition.
When the leopard cat parade participants returned to Taichung City Hall, many parents and kindergarten teachers brought children there. The kids not only enjoyed the mascots but everyone got to sing the Leopard Cat Family theme song in a heartwarming atmosphere.
Taichung City Government has used vivid colors to create the four leopard cat and Omi horse mascots. A leopard cat house for the 2018 Taichung World Flora Expo has also been created at Taichung City Hall on Taiwan Boulevard in order to promote both the Expo and the city government’s determination to protect wildlife. All are welcome to visit and greet the Flora Expo in this “garden city” while expressing support for Taiwan’s endangered leopard cat population.