The nation’s wildlife conservation community and scientists are rejoicing over live video images taken last week of a Formosan black bear and her young cub on a remote mountainside in Hualien County.
The latest filming of the endangered bears was attributed to the diligent work of research assistant Tsai Hsing-chien (蔡幸蒨) and her team from the Institute of Wildlife Conservation at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology.
Accompanied by three conservation volunteers, Tsai encountered the mother bear and her cub on Nov. 11 in the Dafen Mountain (大分山) area in Hualien County’s Jhuosi Township (卓溪).
“We were conducting a field survey near a waterfall at an altitude of about 1,300m on Dafen Mountain. In the early afternoon, we heard two barks from a Formosan sambar — a type of deer. As we walked on, we spotted an adult female bear climbing down from an oak tree. We were less than 20m away from her,” Tsai said.
Tsai said she immediately reached for her digital video camera and began to film the bear, who stared back at her. Tsai said she was surprised that the bear did not run away, but lingered around the tree and then began defecating.
“After about one minute, a bear cub, seemingly about one year old, also climbed down from the tree. Then we realized that the bear was waiting for her cub to finish eating acorns up the tree,” Tsai said.
In the video, the cub is seen trying to climb another tree to get to more acorns, but the mother bear started to walk away. The cub reluctantly ran after her and they left the area.
“We were touched by the mother bear’s display of maternal behavior, protecting and guiding her young cub,” Tsai said.
Tsai’s study team, commissioned by Yushan National Park’s Black Bear Conservation Group to conduct field research, was overjoyed with the encounter.
After the bears left, all four members of the party ran to the bear scat to smell it, but found that it did not have much odor. The scat was bright yellow in color, which showed that the mother bear’s most recent meal consisted of acorns. The team took samples of the still-warm scat back to their laboratory for analysis.
According to Tsai, Formosan black bears have acute senses and are extremely alert.
“In the past, when researchers had a bear encounter in the mountains, the bear always ran away quickly when seeing humans approaching,” Tsai said.
“We surmised the mother bear this time climbed down from the tree in a hurry upon hearing the warning barks of the Formosan sambar. However, as her cub was still up in the tree, she waited around,” she said. “It was a rare opportunity, allowing the team to film the close encounter with the mother-and-cub pair for more than a minute.”
“It made me really happy, like when meeting an old friend again,” she added.
Yushan National Park Administration head Yu Teng-liang (游登良) said his office started the Black Bear Conservation Group in 1996. Most of their video images of bears were taken by automatic cameras installed in the mountains which are triggered by animals’ movements, he said.
“The most recent video capture by hand-held camera was in January 2009, when a researcher filmed a mother and her cub crossing a mountain ravine creek. Thus this new video is very precious, as it adds to our valuable documenting of wildlife,” Yu said.
He said that there are an estimated 160 bears in the Yushan National Park region, based on studies by National Pingtung University of Science and Technology professor Hwang Mei-hsiu (黃美秀), the nation’s foremost bear researcher, from her DNA analysis gathered from bear scat and hair samples.
“We are also seeing new bear cubs every year. This is a good indication that our conservation efforts are paying off,” Yu added.
Dafen Mountain is about 40km, or a three-day hike, from Hualien County’s Yuli Township (玉里). It is on the eastern section of the famed Batongguan Historic Trail (八通關古道), which was constructed in 1919 by the then-ruling Japanese authorities.
Hwang, nicknamed “bear mother,” annually leads a team from the Institute of Wildlife Conservation on 10 days of field survey studies in the mountains during the autumn and winter.
Oaks are the dominant trees on the middle-altitude areas of Dafen Mountain and the acorns ripen from November to February, the Yushan National Park Administration said. As such, acorns are among the main sources of food for Formosan black bears in autumn and winter.
Since oak tree forest areas attract bears from their normal habitat in the higher altitudes, the park administration has built a number of cabins in the Dafen Mountain region. The cabins serve as field stations for the park’s Black Bear Conservation Group, for long-term monitoring of the endangered bears and studies of the population in their natural habitat.