The Presidential Office yesterday dismissed accusations that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) praised Chinese pandas and discredited the popularity of Taiwan’s Formosan black bears in his weekly online address.
In a report published yesterday, the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) disclosed that in this week’s installment of a weekly video-based blog featuring the president, which is to be put on the Presidential Office’s Web site today, Ma met with Hwang Mei-hsiu (黃美秀), assistant professor at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, and talked about Taiwan’s Formosan black bear.
Ma told Hwang, an expert on the conservation of Formosan black bears, that most people feel panda bears are cuter, the report said, adding that Hwang responded by saying that the Formosan black bear is Taiwan’s only bear and that it has a special value.
In a move to refute the accusations that Ma thinks pandas are cuter than Formosan black bears, Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) yesterday held a provisional press conference and showed a clip of the pre-recorded video, saying Ma discussed the -issue of black bear conservation in an effort to raise public awareness on the issue.
In the clip, Hwang said the attention Formosan black bears received was far less than that of pandas, and the public should pay more attention to the black bears.
In response, Ma said: “Pandas have an advantage, they are more likable, and many people like pandas when they see the animals. Here we have less opportunity to see black bears, maybe black bears are lovable too, but we don’t know, so the black bears are in an unfavorable situation.”
Lo said the discussion did not focus on which animal is more popular or cuter, and the president “did not vote for pandas.”
When asked for comment, KMT caucus deputy secretary-general Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) yesterday downplayed the importance of the issue, but said that Formosan black bears are definitely cuter than pandas.
According to the Liberty Times report, during the course of the video program, Ma asked Hwang about the current situation of the Formosan black bear and how many of the bears still exist in Taiwan.
Hwang responded by saying that she was sorry that after being involved in Formosan black bear conservation for 15 years she was not yet able to give Ma an exact figure for how many of the bears are left in Taiwan, but “a rough estimation would be that there are less than 1,000 Formosan black bears left in existence now.”
Hwang was quoted by the Liberty Times report as saying that China has four types of bears — panda bears, the sun bear, the brown bear and the black bear — and that Taiwan only has the one type, the Formosan black bear, which can be identified by the V-shaped pattern on its chest.
Hwang contrasted how pandas are protected in China and how much attention Formosan black bears receive in Taiwan. She said that the illegal killing of pandas in China can lead to a death sentence for those found guilty, while in Taiwan even funds for the conservation of this endangered species are scarce.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG