The recent deaths of endangered black-faced spoonbills in Chiku Lagoon, Tainan County, has sparked hot debate about Taiwan's disappearing wetlands and its inability to prevent the spread of disease among birds.
As of Friday, when Legislators Su Ying-kwei (
"The lack of habitat for the spoonbills resulted in the spread of botulism," Su said.
The loss represents more than 9 percent of the spoonbill population in Taiwan this winter, with Taiwanese birdwatchers counting 705 birds arriving in the country for their cold-weather migration.
It is estimated that there are only 1000 spoonbills worldwide.
According to Su, the lack of food in Taiwan's wetlands forced spoonbills to hunt for food at nearby fish farms.
However, cold fronts that hit Taiwan in early December caused a sharp drop in temperature that led to the appearance of botulism toxin in the fish, which was passed on to the spoonbills.
The black-faced spoonbill was first spotted in Taiwan in 1893 when a British scientist recorded its appearance in Anping, Tainan County.
Between 1925 and 1938, Japanese bird watchers recorded an average of about 50 black-faced spoonbills visiting Anping every year.
However, local scientists and conservationists in Taiwan did not conduct comprehensive research on the bird until 1988, when ornithologists in Hong Kong warned of the dangers of disappearing wetlands and the impact it could have on spoonbill numbers.
Each year, the birds leaves their breeding sites in North Korea, flying all the way down to southeastern China, Taiwan and even Vietnam.
In 1988, it was estimated that the spoonbill population numbered 288 and the estuary of Tsengwen River in Tainan County was the bird's largest habitat. From October to April, Hong Kong birdwatchers said, about 190 black-faced spoonbills wintered at wetlands in Taiwan.
In 1992, the Council of Agriculture (COA) listed the bird on the endangered species register and ended hunting of the bird in Taiwan.
In 1994, a proposal to build the Pinnan Industrial Complex, which was proposed by two petrochemical and steel-making companies, Tuntex Group and Yieh-loong Co, sparked a movement to protect the endangered bird. The project would have taken over part of the lagoon for factory construction.
Since the suspension of the development project, Chihku Lagoon has been turned into a fascinating nature spot that annually attracts tens of thousands of tourists who are eager to witness the beauty of these rare birds.
As the spoonbill population increases, Su said, Taiwan's efforts in protecting wetlands remained too limited to guarantee the preservation of the birds' wintering sites.
"Obviously, the ecological reserve is not large enough to ensure sources of food for hundreds of black-faced spoonbills," Su said.
Tainan County Government designates only an area covering 300 hectares of wetlands as the bird's main habitat.
Su said that he would persuade his colleagues to provide an additional NT$1.6 billion budget proposal to encourage local governments to turn state-owned coastal lands on the west coast into wetland preserves.
Chiau Wen-yan (邱文彥), president of Wetlands Taiwan, told the Taipei Times that the recent spoonbill deaths exposed the necessity of rezoning the ecological reserve.
Chiau said that fish farms near Chihku Lagoon should be used as buffer zones to ensure sources of food for the endangered bird.
"However, fishermen deserve appropriate compensation for their cooperation," Chiau said.
Fishermen's opposition was made clear on Dec. 25, when 54 illegal stable fish nets were forced to be removed under an order from Tainan County Commissioner Su Huan-chih (蘇煥智) based on the Wildlife Conservation Law.
Only two fishermen reportedly agreed to work with Su without asking for compensation.
Meanwhile, to prevent the spread of disease, Su also demanded a long-term sanitation project on a 2,000-hectare area, part of which is the main habitat of the endangered bird.
Local authority mobilized hundreds of volunteer firemen, conservationists and local residents to wade through the chilly waters of the lagoon to collect bodies of dead fish and animals.
"What we need now is money as well as manpower," Lee Tuey-chih (
Lee said that local conservationists had been eager to know the real cause of deaths but comprehensive studies on that remained unavailable.
Moreover, officials of Tainan County Livestock Disease Control Center, requesting help from the COA, said that a lack of anti-C. botulinum serum resulted in a delay in rescuing sick spoonbills.
The COA waited until Thursday before it set up a national task force, which will seek international assistance and strengthen domestic ecological conservation, to tackle the botulism epidemic.
The establishment was pushed by legislators, bird watchers, wetlands protectors, ecological conservationists and environmentalists.
Through DPP Legislator Eugene Jao (趙永清), the COA contacted Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases last week. It is expected that eight bottles of anti-C. botulinum serum, which costs NT$150,000 per unit, will be shipped to the Tainan County Livestock Disease Control Center this week.
Yang Jiao-yen (楊嬌豔), assistant to Jao, told the Taipei Times that Shunji Kozaki (小崎俊司), a veterinary professor of Osaka Prefecture University, and Takeda Masato (
Yang said that the institute had promised to purchase 50 bottles of the serum for Taiwan from a national research center in Lanzhou, China, in order to efficiently tackle the epidemic.
SPEEDING ELETRIC VEHICLES: Available without license requirements, the low-cost vehicles, especially if illicitly modified, can often reach a dangerous speed The government should crack down on illegal electric bicycles and scooters, the non-profit Consumers’ Foundation said on Friday, citing research on the potentially dangerous speed of the vehicles. Electric bicycles and lightweight electric scooters have gained popularity as they do not require registration and riders do not need licenses, the foundation said, adding that as many as 40 percent of them can reach speeds exceeding the legal limit of 25kph for non-licensed two-wheelers. Some consumers also purchased legal electric vehicles and modified them to reach higher speeds, it said. “If the government does not step up efforts to confiscate these
‘RELIABLE PARTNER’: US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar praised the ‘Taiwan model,’ saying that the nation brought its spirit to its COVID-19 response The first memorandum of understanding (MOU) on health cooperation between the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the US Department of Health and Human Services was yesterday signed at the Centers for Disease Control in Taipei. The memorandum was signed between the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US, by AIT Director Brent Christensen and Taiwan Council for US Affairs Chairperson Jen-ni Yang (楊珍妮). US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) witnessed the signing of the memorandum, designed to enhance the nations’
Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) yesterday tweeted a welcome to Somaliland’s first representative to Taiwan, Mohamed Omar Hagi Mohamoud, who arrived on Friday. Mohamoud had “braved Chinese pressure” to take up his new post, Wu wrote. “The fact ‘sovereignty & friendship aren’t for sale’ deserves international recognition,” referring to a Somaliland media report earlier this month that Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi had rejected an offer by the Chinese government in exchange for ending its rapprochement with Taiwan. Wu also thanked the US National Security Council (NSC) for praising Taiwan-Somaliland ties. A council tweet on July 10 praised Taiwan
The US on Thursday removed a warning against all international travel, and placed Taiwan on a list of 13 destinations where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is “very low.” The list was compiled almost five months after the US Department of State issued a “global level 4 health advisory,” urging US citizens to avoid all international travel. On Thursday, the department announced that it was lifting the advisory, saying that “with health and safety conditions improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others, the Department is returning to our previous system of country-specific levels of travel advice.” The US