Potential Formosan black bear sighting in rice paddy raises concerns

10/31/2021 03:31 PM
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Photo courtesy of Fuli Township Farmers
Photo courtesy of Fuli Township Farmers' Association

Taipei, Oct. 31 (CNA) A farmers' association in Hualien County recently set aside a rice field as a feeding ground after a Formosan black bear was reportedly spotted foraging there, but conservationists cautioned that doing so could make the bear change its diet.

The association in Hualien's Fuli Township announced on Oct. 27 that it has pledged to purchase the latest harvest from a 2,000 square meter rice paddy owned by a local farmer surnamed Chen (陳) after he reported seeing a bear-like creature on his land.

Chang Su-hua (張素華), director general of the association, told CNA Chen took a video of the animal eating the rice crop on his land on Oct. 26, but was unable to determine what it was.

A rice paddy in Fuli Township, Hualien County. CNA photo Oct. 27, 2021
A rice paddy in Fuli Township, Hualien County. CNA photo Oct. 27, 2021

After the association consulted with experts at the Forestry Bureau about Chen's video, "eight out of 10 (experts) said it was a Formosan black bear," Chang said.

As a result, Fuli Township Farmers' Association, which has a farming contract with Chen, decided it would pay for Chen's crop as agreed but asked the farmer to leave the rice field unharvested exclusively for the bear, Chang said.

The request secured Chen's "agreement with pleasure," she said.

Chen engages in so-called "satoyama" agriculture, a Japanese term meaning the area between mountains and arable land. It it also a method of farming that seeks to create harmony with nature.

It has been decades since a Formosan black bear has been spotted in eastern Taiwan along the Coastal Mountain Range, Chang said.

The bear can be seen around 0:38.

Although no proof has been provided to confirm whether the animal is a Formosan black bear, the farmers' association is considering "branding" local rice as "black bear-certified" to boost sales if the sighting is confirmed, Chang added.

The Forestry Bureau has set up an infrared camera on Chen's paddy field in the hope of capturing an image of the animal, but as of press time, it had not returned to the rice field.

Meanwhile, the Formosan Black Bear Conservation Association said in the event the sighting was of a black bear it is not a good idea to reserve the rice paddy for its exclusive use as to do so could cause the animal to change its diet.

While recognizing the farmers' goodwill, the association said on its Facebook page that feeding the Formosan Black Bear with crops could "spoil" it and cause problem if it searches for more food from humans.

"If the bear does linger in the area, it will be necessary to stop it from continuing to eat rice crops there," the conservationists said, while suggesting stronger monitoring of wild animal activities, as well as protecting the bear from being illegally hunted.

(By Lee Hsien-feng and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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