Fri, Jan 17, 2014 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Taichung bats return after cave renovations

TOURIST TRAP?Bars were placed across an entrance to the cave and a stream was rerouted into the aqueduct as part of a decades-long effort to re-establish the colony

By Chen Chien-chih and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A couple of Formosan leaf-nosed bats hang in the Toubiankeng Bat Cave in the Toubiankeng Leisure Agricultural Area of Greater Taichung’s Taiping District on Jan. 8.

Photo: Chen Chien-chih, Taipei Times

Conservation groups and local residents in a hill area of Greater Taichung expressed delight that colonies of bats have returned after three decades of work on a cave that was once a famous attraction.

Civic organizations and municipal officials said that they are proud of the ecological preservation and conservation work that resulted in the reappearance of the bats at “Toubiankeng [頭汴坑] Bat Cave.”

The cave is in the Toubiankeng Leisure Agricultural Area in the Taiping District (太平), which is in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range.

Repopulation of the Toubiankeng Bat Cave has left scientists elated, because the colonies consist of the Formosan leaf-nosed bat, Hipposideros terasensis, one of Taiwan’s endemic subspecies.

Much of the credit for the re-established colony goes to the Water Source Culture Foundation and its affiliated conservation groups in the city after decades of work.

On recent inspections, local volunteers found an estimated 100 to 200 bats inhabiting the cave.

The cave was dug in as part of an irrigation conduit to carry water from the area’s Dongbian River (東汴溪) to fields belonging to the local Lin (林) family.

Due to a severe flood in 1959, the river changed its course and the conduit dried up.

It was a blessing in disguise for wild creatures, as the conduit’s damp cave provided a suitable colony for the bats.

In the 1960s, the cave became a renowned tourist attraction.

“Those were the glory years for the site — the 1960s and 1970s. However, it ended when a big flood struck the area in the summer of 1983,” WSCF chairman Yeh Chin-yu (葉晉玉) said. “It inundated the cave and caused much destruction. After that, the bats went away and we have not seen them for the past 30 years.”

Yeh said after the 921 Earthquake, he led a working team in collaboration with the Toubiankeng community to initiate conservation programs in the area.

“We began by installing iron bar barriers across the cave’s entrance. The local tourism bureau laid pipes to draw a stream into the cave. After more than 10 years, we began to reap the rewards of our efforts,” he said.

“About two months ago, we observed several bats flying out of the cave to forage for food in the evening hours. Then last weekend, our team entered the cave with some local residents and were able to verify that there are about 100 to 200 Formosan leaf-nosed bats inside,” he added.

People going to the original cave entrance will not see any bats, as they are flying in and out of the grottoes through other entrances, he said.

“It was not easy for the bats to return, so we hope people will cherish them and not go into the cave and disturb the colonies,” he said, adding that people should become observers and protectors of wildlife, rather than behaving like tourists.

According to Yeh, talks are underway with local officials to set up a community patrol team to maintain the protective measures that have been established, while he asked people to leave the bats alone and allow them to flourish in their natural habitat.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Ho Hsin-chun (何欣純) and DPP Taichung Councilor Huang Hsiu-chu (黃秀珠), were also involved in the conservation effort, having lobbied for funding to build a tourist bridge and other construction projects in the area.

“The bats returning is an auspicious omen for the people. I urge the public to watch the bats from outside the cave and not to enter it,” Huang said.

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