Sunday, May 15, 2011

Save the Formosan Black Bear

"If there were no bears in the mountains, the forest would look empty and I would feel lonely." - An indigenous Bunun hunter

"We do not wish to lose this soul of Taiwan's mountains. We do not wish our offspring to see them only in the zoo or in history books."
- Mei-Hsiu Hwang, Institute of Wildlife Conservation, a campaigner for black-bear preservation

Stuffed Formosan Black Bear at the lobby of Alishan Mountain Park in Taiwan.
Visitors like Anthony Hwang, a graduate of the UST Graduate School, may not find it amusing because the animal is at the brink of extinction.

Ten-year-old Formosan black bear at a rescue centre in National Pingtung University of Science and Technology in southern Taiwan. Saving the Formosan black bear from poaching is a priority for rangers in Taiwan's forested eastern region, but hunters are still attracted by the potential profits from selling the creature's paws and bile for traditional Chinese medicines.
(AFP/File/Ben Yeh)

The Formosan Black Bear(Ursus thibetanus formosanus, or Selenarctos thibetanus formosanus), also known as the white-throated bear, is a subspecies of the Asiatic Black Bear. Formosan black bears are an endemic species to Taiwan.

The bears feed primarily on leaves, buds, fruits, roots, although they also eat insects, small animals, and carrion. They live in the mountainous forests in the eastern two-thirds of Taiwan at elevations of 3,300 to 10,000 feet. In the winter, rather than hibernating like Asiatic black bears in temperate areas, they move to lower elevations to find food.They are solitary and usually move around extensively except during the mating season or when caring for cubs.
They are skilled at swimming and climbing, and rarely attack humans without provocation.

Formosan black bears do not have fixed shelters, excapt the females during their breeding period. Courtship is very brief. After mating, they return to their solitary lives. Females become sexually mature in three to four years, giving birth to 1 to 3 cubs. Cubs are nursed for about six months. When they are strong enough to leave the den, bear cubs remain with the mother for two years, until the mother enters the next cycle of estrus and drives the cubs off. This forms the two-year reproductive cycle of Formosan black bears.

Here is an old folks' account of Bunun people on how they live with the black bears they call Aguman or Duman, which means the devil.

"If a Bunun hunter's trap accidentally traps a bear, he has to build a cottage in the mountains and burn up the body of the bear there. He has also to stay in the cottage alone away from the village until the harvest of millet is finished. Rukai and Paiwan people are allowed to hunt bears, but the hunters have to pay the price of carrying the ancient curse in return. Rukai people believe hunting bears can result in diseases. Also, not every one is allowed to eat bear meat, and children are strongly forbidden to do so. In Taroko (Truku) legends, Formosan black bears are respectful “kings of the forest” whose white mark on the chest represents the moon. The Taroko people believe that killing black bears results in family disasters. In general among these hunting tribes, hunters of boars are respected as heroes, while hunters of bears are considered as losers."

Reported bear sightings are very low and no one knows exactly how many of them still exist. The species has been legally protected since 1989 but illegal hunting continues and such poaching continues to threaten Formosan black bear populations.

Since 1989, Formosan black bears were listed as endangered animals and protected by Taiwan's Cultural Heritage Preservation Law and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) which declares that these bears are vulnerable to extinction. (Wikipedia) ~

NOTE: I had a chance to visit Taiwan as a government scholar to study Taiwan's agro- economic programs in the seventies. In 1992 I visited Taiwan again, this time with Mr Anthony Huang, a Taiwanese student at the Graduate School of University of Santo Tomas. Anthony took me to Kenting Park in Kaoshiung, and to Alishan Mountain in mid-eastern Taiwan. Here I studied some of the island's forests and wildlife. I am very grateful to Anthony, the Food and Fertilizer Technology Center and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center.

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