The Taiwan Aquarium and Zoological Parks Association yesterday announced a long-term conservation plan for the nation’s Formosan black bears, listed as an endangered species following the enactment of the Wildlife Protection Act (野生動物保育法) in 1989.
The mighty animals are one of Taiwan’s national symbols, but their numbers have dwindled due to of habitat encroachment and poaching.
A subspecies of the Asiatic black bear, Formosan black bears are the only bear species native to Taiwan. There are no exact figures on how many of the bears live in the wild, as they are elusive animals that inhabit inaccessible mountains.
National Pingtung University of Science and Technology professor Hwang Mei-hsiu (黃美秀) and her team, which is the only group researching Formosan black bears in the wild, have produced studies suggesting there are fewer than 500 left.
Conservation work on the species has been carried out for years, but only by individual groups or institutes, said Shih Chih-chin (石芝菁), of the Animal Department at Taipei Zoo. The association undertook an initiative to collectivize conservation efforts and establish a platform to exchange experience and information.
Founded in 1994, the association consists of 16 zoos, conservation institutes and research centers, including the Taipei Zoo, Greater Kaohsiung’s Shoushan Zoo, the Endemic Species Research Institute and the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology’s Pingtung Rescue Center for Endangered Wild Animals.
Taipei Zoo director Jason Chin (金仕謙) said the first stage is to foster a healthy bear population in captivity. He said that 10 out of the 32 Asiatic black bears in captivity nationwide have been identified as Formosan black bears through DNA analysis, and some of them will be sent to the Endemic Species Research Institute for breeding.
In the meantime, the bears’ behavior and diets will be closely studied, Shih said.
“We will also work on educating people about the importance of protecting these animals. It is equally important to raise public awareness and let people understand the animals,” Shih said.