Formosan Black Bear of Mt. Dongmao Died of Suspected Gunshot Wounds, Forestry Bureau Reviews the Release Decision-making Process

An autopsy was conducted by the Animal Health Research Institute of the Council of Agriculture (COA) on the Mt. Dongmao black bear number 568, whose signal disappeared when it was killed 24 days after release. It was found that the bear’s skull was partially fractured and there were bullet holes in the body, which are suspected to be caused by gunshot wounds or other weapons. The case is being actively investigated by the prosecutor's office and police. However, details of the autopsy report cannot be released for the time being. The Forestry Bureau of the COA urges the public not to speculate and to wait for the prosecutor’s investigation results. In addition, the Forestry Bureau made public the decision-making process for the bear's release, and stated that the Formosan black bear of Mt. Dongmao may have moved away from the Danda Major Wildlife Habitat, where it was released, due to “homing behavior,” and was killed in the Wujie area, where human activities are frequent.

Injuries of the Formosan Black Bear of Mt. Dongmao Were Caused by Humans
The Formosan black bear of Mt. Dongmao was released on April 12 in the Danda Mountain area in Xinyi Township, Nantou, where it moved northward, finally entering the Wujie Mountain area in Ren’ai Township. Its tracking signal was lost on May 6, 2022. On May 9, tracking personnel from the Forestry Bureau found the bear’s body buried less than 100 meters from the Wujie Industrial Road. The body was then sent to the Animal Health Research Institute of the COA for an autopsy. In addition to the initial confirmation that the cause of death was related to gunshot wounds or other human factors, the Animal Health Research Institute also found that the bear’s body had a normal fat layer and a good body condition score (BCS) of 4/5; black masses were found in the intestines, thus it was presumed that the bear had foraged normally since its release without lacking food sources.

Reviewing the Decision-making Process for Wildlife Relocations
In response to the question of why it was decided to release the bear in the Danda Mountain area, the Forestry Bureau explained that, considering the fact that the Mt. Dongmao black bear had been known to disturb orchards and farmhouses, the release was based on overseas literature and the “Formosan Black Bear Release Evaluation Criteria” formulated by the Forestry Bureau based on the recent and frequent experiences releasing Formosan black bears in Taiwan. In early October 2021, the Dongshih Forest District Office distributed more than 100 questionnaires to residents in the surrounding settlements and communities of the Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area and Shei-Pa National Park, where the Mt. Dongmao black bear’s original habitat was located. The results showed that although nearly 50% of the residents supported the return of the bear to the wild, more than 50% did not want it to be released back to its original habitat near human settlements.
On October 19, 2021, the Forestry Bureau invited a number of experts and scholars to evaluate whether to release the bear back to the wild, focusing on its physical health condition, ability to survive in the wild, and its interaction with people during its rehabilitation. The experts and scholars at the meeting were quite divided in their opinions, with more than one expert expressing that lifelong captivity should be adopted for the bear. In the end, it was decided by consensus that the bear was in good condition and the Forestry Bureau was willing to give it another chance to return to nature; however, if it disturbed human settlements again, it would be captured and kept in captivity for life. Considering the opinions of local residents, “relocation of the bear” received more support from experts.
Therefore, the Forestry Bureau instructed all Forest District Offices to take stock of suitable habitats for the bear's release, and to use factors such as food abundance, distance from human settlements, hunting frequency, accessibility for follow-up monitoring, human-bear conflict prevention measures, and local residents’ acceptance of its release as comprehensive evaluation indicators for selecting release sites. On November 17, when the experts were invited to discuss the release sites, there were still a variety of views and opinions at that meeting. In the end, the “Danda Major Wildlife Habitat” was chosen as this is an area with intact mid-altitude virgin broadleaved forests, with an abundance of plants in the beech family, and many herbivores such as Reeves’s muntjacs, goats, and Formosan sambar deer; water is also easily accessible in the area thanks to the Luanda River, Junda River, and Danda River. The Nantou Forest District Office also found traces of Formosan black bears during the pre-release site survey, and although the distribution density was low, the assessment concluded that it was less likely to lead to competition between adult male bears. The area is also far away from popular hiking areas, and there are several steep mountains forming natural barriers to the neighboring settlements, and the chance of conflict with humans is low. For these reasons, Danda was the first choice for the bear's release site.

Residents Accept Coexistence with the Bear, but It Returned North and Moved Away from the Area
The most critical issue was the acceptance of the bear by the communities in the vicinity of the release site. On January 15, 2022, the Dongshih Forest District Office, together with the Nantou Forest District Office, held an explanation meeting in Xinyi Township, Nantou, inviting local residents from the tribal communities of Shuanglong, Dili, Renhe, and Tannan to participate in the meeting. The meeting was held as a briefing on the two rescues of the Mt. Dongmao black bear and the disturbances it caused to farms after its first release. The majority of the residents at the meeting was not against the release of the bear in the area. The chairman of the meeting from the Dili Tribal Community supported the idea of giving the bear another chance, and he reminded those present that the Bunun people’s tradition prohibited the hunting of bears. Finally, the residents agreed to the release of the bear in the area and to cooperate with the necessary bear prevention measures in case the bear approached their communities. Considering the previous cases of disturbances by the Mt. Dongmao black bear, the Forestry Bureau also stated in the meeting that an electronic fencing would be set up around nearby communities, and promised to activate the capture of the bear for lifelong captivity if it approached and disrupted the settlements.
The satellite tracking data also proved that the bear was safe in the Danda Major Wildlife Habitat after its release, and that it was not disturbed by humans. There were also abundant natural food sources, and so there was no need to invade the surrounding farmland and farm buildings due to foraging. Unfortunately, the bear moved northward and left the safety of the Danda Mountain area. When the Forestry Bureau and the monitoring team noticed that bear 568 might be exhibiting “homing behavior,” similar to the documented behavior of American black bears after being relocated in the wild, they immediately activated emergency response measures, including setting up electronic fencing along the north-advancing route and communicating with communities along the possible route in advance, asking residents to put away pest control and hunting traps in the hope that the bear would return home safely. However, 568 was still killed in the end, leaving behind infinite regret. The cause of the death and the perpetrator’s motives are to be determined by the outcome of the prosecutor's office and police investigation.
The complete records of the two expert meetings and the Danda tribal community briefing on the second release of the Formosan black bear of Mt. Dongmao can be found on the Forestry Bureau’s Nature Conservation website/Download/Minutes (https://conservation.forest.gov.tw/0002185) of Meetings for public viewing.
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