Formosan black bear

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Formosan black bear
Formosan Black Bear01.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. thibetanus
Subspecies: U. t. formosanus
Trinomial name
Ursus thibetanus formosanus
Swinhoe, 1864
Synonyms

Selenarctos thibetanus formosanus

The Formosan black bear (台灣黑熊, Ursus thibetanus formosanus, or Selenarctos thibetanus formosanus), also known as the white-throated bear, is a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear. Formosan black bears are endemic to Taiwan. In 2001, they were voted the most representative wildlife of Taiwan in a half-year long countrywide voting campaign. They are also the largest land animals and the only native bears (Ursidae) in Taiwan.[1]

Because of severe exploitation and habitat degradation in recent decades, populations of wild Formosan black bears have been declining. This species was listed as "endangered" under Taiwan's Wildlife Conservation Act (Traditional Chinese: 野生動物保育法) in 1989. Their geographic distribution is restricted to remote, rugged areas at elevations of 1,000–3,500 metres (3,300–11,500 ft).

Physical characteristics[edit]

The V-shaped white mark on a bear's chest
A Formosan black bear

The Formosan black bear is sturdily built and has a round head, short neck, small eyes, and long snout. Its head measures 26–35 cm in length and 40–60 cm in circumference. Its ears are 8–12 cm long. Its snout resembles a dog's, hence its nickname is "dog bear". Its tail is inconspicuous and short — usually less than 10 cm long. Its body is well covered with rough, glossy, black hair, which can grow over 10 cm long around the neck. The tip of its chin is white. On the chest, there is a distinctive yellowish or whitish mark that is shaped like a "V" character or a crescent moon. This earns it another nickname — "moon bear".[2]

Diet[edit]

Acorns
A bear eating fruits

They feed primarily on leaves, buds, fruits, roots, although they also eat insects, small animals, and carrion. Diets of bears monitored in Yushan National Park include succulent vegetation in spring, soft fruits rich in carbohydrate in summer, and fat-loaded hard mast (e.g., acorn and walnut) in fall/winter.

Habitat and Behavior[edit]

The Formosan bear lives in the mountainous forests in the eastern two-thirds of Taiwan at elevations of 3,300 to 10,000 feet. In the winter, rather than hibernating like Asiatic black bears in temperate areas, they move to lower elevations to find food. They are active for 54–57% of daylight hours, and more active during summer (60%) and fall/winter (60%) than spring (47%). They are primarily active during the day in the spring and summer; and increasingly active at night in the fall/winter when acorns are abundant. They are solitary and usually move around extensively except during the mating season or when caring for cubs. Formosan bears are also the only bears on the planet that make temporary nests.

Although they look clumsy and slow, Formosan black bears can easily outrun humans, reaching speeds of 30–40 km per hour. They are skilled at swimming and climbing, as well. Because of their Endangered Species Status and their habit of avoiding humans, Formosan black bears are rarely seen in the wild. In most encounters the bear retreats and runs away from humans. Even though bears can be aggressive, they rarely attack humans without provocation.

Reproduction[edit]

As solitary animals, Formosan black bears do not stay in fixed shelters, except for females during their breeding period. The bear's courtship period is very brief. A male trails after a female for a few days. After mating, they return to their solitary lives. Females reach sexual maturity at age 3–4 and males reach sexual maturity at age 4–5, usually one year later than females. Mating is usually from June to August and pregnancy lasts for 6–7 months. Thus, wild females usually give birth between December and the following February.[3]

Each birth produces 1–3 cubs. Cubs will be nursed by mother for about six months. When they are strong enough to leave the den, bear cubs will remain with the mother for approximately two years, until the mother enters the next cycle of estrus and drives the cubs off. This forms the 2-year reproductive cycle of Formosan black bears.[3]

Hunter and hunted[edit]

Formosan black bears (台灣黑熊) and Formosan clouded leopards (台灣雲豹) — two of the most powerful land animals on the island of Taiwan — used to roam over the ranges and mountains of Taiwan. However, while the leopard is now extinct the bear, though endangered, has survived.[4] According to research by the Institute of Wildlife Conservation, National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, this may be due to the myths and traditional taboos of Taiwanese aborigines.[5]

Bunun people call black bears Aguman or Duman which means the devil. If a Bunun hunter's trap accidentally traps a bear, he has to build a cottage in the mountains and burn the body of the bear there. He has also to stay in the cottage alone away from the village until the millet harvest is finished. Rukai and Paiwan people are allowed to hunt bears, but the hunters have to pay the price of carrying the ancient curse in return. Rukai people believe hunting bears can result in disease. Also, not every one is allowed to eat bear meat, and children are strictly forbidden to do so. In Taroko (Truku) legend, Formosan black bears are respectful “kings of the forest” whose white marks on their chests represent the moon. The Taroko people believe that killing black bears results in family disaster. In general, among these hunting tribes, hunters of boars are respected as heroes, while hunters of bears are considered losers.[4]

Endangered species[edit]

From 1998 to 2000, 15 Formosan black bears were captured and radio collared in Yushan National Park. Reported bear sightings are very infrequent and no one knows exactly how many bears still exist. The species has been legally protected since 1989 but illegal hunting continues and such poaching continues to threaten Formosan black bear populations. For example, eight of fifteen bears captured in the above survey had missing toes or paws, caused by illegal traps.

Since 1989, Formosan black bears have been listed as endangered animals and protected by Taiwan's Cultural Heritage Preservation Law (Traditional Chinese: 文化資產保存法). Internationally, this species is listed on Appendix I of CITES. CITES bans all international trade of any products from this species. The Formosan black bear is also on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) which declares that these bears are vulnerable to extinction.

An indigenous Bunun hunter once said, "If there were no bears in the mountains, the forest would look empty and I would feel lonely." Mei-Hsiu Hwang of Institute of Wildlife Conservation,[6] a campaigner for black-bear preservation, also said: "We do not wish to lose this soul of Taiwan's mountains. We do not wish our offspring to see them only in the zoo or in history books."

There is still hope for the Formosan black bear. In 2009, Lin Yuan-Yuan (a member of Yushan National Park's black bear conservation group) recorded footage showing a mother bear attempting to help her two cubs cross a rapid near Batongguan Historic Trail (八通關古道) in the eastern section of Tafen (塔芬).[7]

Popular culture[edit]

The logo of La New Bears, a professional baseball team in Taiwan, features a Formosan black bear.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Taiwan's Ecological Conservation. Gio.gov.tw. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  4. ^ a b [3]
  5. ^ 行政院國家科學委員會, National Science Council. Web1.nsc.gov.tw. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  6. ^ [4][dead link]
  7. ^ Yushan National Park

See also[edit]

External links[edit]