When 54-year-old Wang Ching-ming (汪靜明) sets off on a hike that takes him 1,500m above sea level, he is not focused on the mountain’s flora, but rather on its fauna.
To be precise, the scientist goes looking for the Formosan landlocked salmon, an endangered species that lives in cold-water streams high up in the mountains.
Wang, a professor at National Taiwan Normal University, has spent half his life researching and trying to protect the Taiwan salmon, as it is also known.
“It’s simply magic, an ecological miracle,” he said with a spark in his eyes, as he explained that the carnivorous fish species is a relic from the glacial period that is now endemic to Taiwan.
First identified in 1917, the Formosan salmon is one of the rarest fish in the world. It inhabits cold-water streams at temperatures of below 17°C on gently sloping elevations of between 1,500m and 2,000m.
Typically, it is found in the upper reaches of the Tachia River system in central Taiwan.
Over the last 25 years, Wang has made more than 300 trips back and forth between Taipei and the central mountain range to collect data on the Formosan salmon.
CIRCLING THE GLOBE
On average, the total distance covered during those trips is further than circling the globe.
Each hike takes about four hours and then Wang stays on the mountain for three to five days.
“When I started my research, my first son was only three months old — I guess I was somewhat abandoning my family,” he said half-jokingly.
His son, a software engineer who is now 25, recalled that when he was a child his father was seldom at home.
“When he did come home, it was usually very late after I’d gone to bed, “Yong-jin said. “The salmon were like my father’s children as well.”
On his treks up the mountains, Wang is usually accompanied by at least three other people, who help to carry the heavy equipment needed to collect the data.
Wang’s work includes tagging and weighing the fish and inspecting the water quality in their habitat.
With the help of the government, his efforts over the past two decades have produced tangible results.
According to the latest statistics from the Shei-Pa National Park Headquarters in Miaoli County, the number of Formosan salmon has risen from just over 200 in 1992 to more than 4,000 at present.
“What he has been doing is admirable and remarkable,” said Chung Ming-shan (鍾銘山), deputy director of the park, adding that he appreciates Wang’s hard work.
“His persistence and determination should be highly praised,” Chung said.
Most recently, Wang has been working to collate and digitalize the results of his 25 years of research in the field.
In collaboration with the park headquarters, he published a book last year with the aim of raising public awareness of the need to protect the Formosan salmon species.
“Environmental education is vital,” he said.
Not long ago, Wang and his students launched a digital platform for public discussion of environmental issues.
Quoting internationally renowned British conservationist Jane Goodall, he said, “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”
Wang said he hopes that people will share their own stories via the social network and thus help bring about a change in attitude on environmental matters.
“No matter what we do and how we are working to preserve the environment, we have to put ourselves in the place of the species we are trying to protect, and not just look at things from a human perspective,” he said.