Following the much-publicized arrival in Taiwan of a pair of giant pandas — Tuan-Tuan and Yuan-Yuan — members of the Aboriginal Bunun tribe, who regard the Formosan black bear as a sacred animal — can only sigh as they see the unequal attention paid to pandas and bears in Taipei Zoo.
Many Bunun people have said it would be better to move the zoo’s black bears back where they came from — the mountains around Yushan in central Taiwan — where they could live with dignity in the midst of nature, and the government could save on the expense of keeping them.
When visiting his home district in Hualien County last week, Tamapima Lumaf (江冠榮), a visiting academic at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Ethnology, found that many of his fellow Bunun are very concerned about what they see as the low status given to the bears.
The tribe’s elders were particularly indignant, and asked Lumaf to help voice their concerns.
Yushan is Taiwan’s highest peak and a symbol of the country. Lumaf said there is a place near Yushan that the Bunun people call Tutumaz, or “many bears,” because Formosan black bears like to congregate there. Bunun people have lived around Yushan for centuries, sharing mountains and forest resources with the bears. Since tradition forbids the killing of the bears, the Bunun coexist peacefully with them and protect their cubs, which are almost like pets for them.
According to Lumaf, researchers rely on Bunun people to help them when they want to track bears. The bears that are now kept at Taipei’s municipal zoo in Muzha were caught, tranquilized and carried down the mountain by researchers with the assistance of Bunun trackers.
Relaying the opinions of Bunun people in Hualien, Lumaf said the department that removed the bears from their natural mountain habitat did so in the name of conservation and research. Now the locals see through the media how zoo animals are being manipulated for political purposes, and the big difference in the treatment given to the pandas and bears. In such circumstances, the government’s original stated purpose of conservation has been forgotten.
While the bears are in the same zoo as the pandas, there is a big difference in their living conditions. In view of this, Lumaf said the black bears might as well be allowed to “go home,” in which case the expenses saved could be used to fund research. It would be better for naturalists to observe the bears in their natural habitat on Yushan instead of in cages, he said.