Activists who work for the conservation of the Formosan black bear, an endangered species indigenous to Taiwan that is often used as a national symbol, have pledged to push ahead with an educational initiative designed to enhance public awareness of the animal, despite fundraising difficulties.
Referred to by many as the “Mama Bear” — a rough translation of the name “Ali Duma” given to her by Aborigines — Hwang Mei-hsiu (黃美秀) decided to devote herself to black bear conservation about 15 years ago.
Despite years of hard work and advocacy, Hwang has yet to eradicate such long-standing threats to the bear’s existence as poaching and trading.
An associate professor at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology’s Institute of Wildlife Conservation, Hwang established the Taiwan Black Bear Conservation Association in 2010 to promote public education on the endangered species.
This year, the association had planned to roll out an educational program in hundreds of Aboriginal communities and elementary schools in mountainous areas, in an effort to help foster an emotional bond to the Formosan bear and emphasize its endangered status.
However, the plan, which had been scheduled to start in September, has been hit by a fundraising setback that has forced the association to lower its original funding goal from NT$5 million (US$171,100) to NT$2 million and halve the number of schools it plans to visit, Hwang said.
Despite months of effort, the conservation association has raised less than NT$1 million, with NT$150,000 coming from the royalties on Hwang’s books and NT$500,000 from former minister of Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission Chang Fu-Mei (張富美).
Donations amounting to NT$200,000 have come from corporate sponsors, with small contributions from members of the public amounting to about NT$100,000, Hwang said.
The association launched the educational initiative out of a strong sense of passion and a conviction that the single-minded devotion of civic environmental groups would attract support and recognition from the corporate world, Hwang said.
“However, to our surprise, the association’s first fundraiser did not go smoothly,” she added.
Undeterred by the turn of events, Hwang has vowed to launch the education initiative as scheduled, saying there is “nothing more urgent than safeguarding the well-being of the black bear.”
“If we cannot afford hotels, we can just sleep on the floor. At least we can check transportation off the list because an automaker has offered to provide us with a vehicle,” she said.
Historically, black bear conservation has been more a -matter of slogans than action, Hwang added.
“Only by teaching the younger generation, particularly those who grow up in mountainous -areas, about the importance of conservation and the environmental predicament facing wildlife, can a long-term solution be found resolve the problem,” she said.