Wed, Apr 24, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Black bear cub to return to wild

SOULMATES?While chickens had been introduced into the enclosure as a food source, the Formosan cub ended up becoming attached to one, which became a companion

By Chien Hui-ju and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A Formosan black bear found in Hualien County last year is pictured in an undated photograph provided by the Taiwan Black Bear Conservation Association.

Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times

A Formosan black bear cub found in July last year near Hualien County’s Nanan Waterfall (南安瀑布) is now strong and self-sufficient enough to be returned to the wild, which would be a landmark in Taiwan’s conservation efforts, black bear expert Huang Mei-hsiu (黃美秀) said yesterday.

Huang, a professor of conservation at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, told a Council of Agriculture news conference in Taipei that the cub, which only weighed 4.4kg and was sickly when rescued, would be released on Tuesday next week, weather permitting.

A collaborative effort by the university, the Taiwan Black Bear Conservation Association and the Forestry Bureau helped nurse the cub back to health and prepare it for its release, Huang added.

Taiwan’s Formosan black bear population is estimated to number between 300 and 600, she said.

The cub was spotted on its own on July 10, its mother apparently having abandoned it after being frightened by an encounter with tourists, Huang said.

The cub, which was estimated to be about four months old, was not feeding and appeared feeble, so the bureau and the association called in a panel of experts, who advised on intervention, Huang said.

An examination by Taipei Zoo veterinarians found that it had pneumonia and was severely anemic, which prompted the decision to airlift the cub to the Endemic Species Research Institute in Nantou County for treatment, and a National Airborne Service Corps helicopter made the delivery, she said.

The cub in December last year was moved into a fenced enclosure that simulated a wilderness area, so it could learn to search for food, hunt, evade humans and traps, and other survival skills.

After demonstrating that it could feed itself on insects, beehives and goats, the cub was judged to be self-sufficient, she said.

In one unexpected development, while chickens had also been introduced into the enclosure to serve as a food source, the cub ended up becoming attached to one chicken, which became its companion, she said.

The cub now weighs 40kg and stands 120cm tall, and all the preparations for its return to its native habitat have been completed, Huang said.

The cub is to be returned to the mountains near Jhuosi Township (卓溪) where it was found, Huang said, adding that the area was selected for its remoteness from humans and its abundant food sources.

Elders from the township’s Bunun community, whose religious beliefs are linked to black bears, have held a ceremony to bless the cub, she said.

The plan is to anesthetize the cub and transfer it by helicopter to the release point under the supervision of three veterinarians, she added.

The cub would be microchipped, earmarked and given a collar with a GPS device so that it can be tracked and its health monitored, Huang said, adding that the collar would automatically snap open after one year.

Hopefully, it will avoid encounters with humans for at least two months after its release, she said.

The cub is a reminder to Taiwanese to be more proactive in bear conservation, as restoring the wild ursine population is a far more challenging task than nursing a single cub back to health, she added.

Association president Chang Fu-mei (張富美) told the news conference that the government should conduct a survey of the Formosan black bear population, “so that conservationists will have something to plan with.”

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