Release of “The Death of a Formosan Black Bear” Documentary on Formosan Black Bear of Mt. Dongmao: Complete and Open Review of Rescue and Release Process Reflects on Relationship between Humans and Bears

He roamed the mountains, entered orchards by mistake, and even trespassed on people’s homes, causing quite a stir. This is a story of a Formosan black bear’s encounter with humans. The nature-human documentary, The Death of a Formosan Black Bear - Life Records of 711 / 568, is produced by the Forestry Bureau of the Council of Agriculture and released today (27th). The film documented the complete journey of a Mt. Dongmao Formosan black bear’s two rescues, releases, and its eventual killing. The film will be premiered at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung on January 1, 2023, and a special screening will be held at the Forestry Bureau International Conference Hall on January 14, 2023. Members of the public are invited to attend the screenings to learn about a difficult and obstacle-filled journey that the Formosan black bear of Mt. Dongmao had endured to return to the forest, and reflect on a rational way for humans and bears to co-exist.
A large male bear, serial-numbered 711/568, was originally released as a research target by the Forestry Bureau’s Dongshih Forest District Office in November 2018. He was rescued from a trap in Mt. Dongmao in Taichung on October 1, 2020, where it entered the public’s sight. Between October 2020 and May 2022, the bear had been caught in a trap twice, rescued, rehabilitated, and released after recovery. But it eventually met an unfortunate end. The Forestry Bureau said that since the bear rescue began, the Dongshih Forest District Office under the Forestry Bureau had commissioned a production company, Vision Way Communication to perform video recording. After its death, the Forestry Bureau decided to present the full story of the bear to the public through a documentary film. In addition to presenting personal recounting of experience by people who participated in the rescue, care, and release process, as well as efforts of various public departments and private units working on Formosan black bear conservation, the film also highlights how humans and bears should interact rationally from the perspective of mountain villagers.
Vicky Yen Wen-Ru, the film’s director, said that the team produced the film mainly from the perspective of “people who actually cared for Formosan black bear No. 711/568.” According to her, the most touching part of the filming process was that even though the bear had somehow always decided to come out and explore during public holidays (Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year), even though its mischievous behavior was a source of frustration, and even though the process was so unpredictable that they didn’t know when it would end, nobody ever gave up on him. Everyone did their best to watch over the bear until the very end.

Mountain Is Our Home, So Was His.
On October 1, 2020, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Dongshih Forest District Office received a report. A Formosan black bear was trapped in a persimmon orchard located in Mt. Dongmao, Heping District, Taichung. It was mistakenly caught in a snare trap, commonly known as a “boar sling,” while climbing over the orchard fence. Formosan black bears are not the target of fruit farmers. Mr. Chan Dong-Yun, a farmer said, “A group of 15 to 20 monkeys can ravage 10,000 persimmons in a day, while wild boars can even crush and damage all the trees in an orchard. So, farmers are forced to resort to hunting equipment to protect their crops.” Villages and settlements in the mountains are homes of human beings. But they are also within the habitat range of the Formosan black bears. Is it possible to find a point of balance between wildlife conservation and fruit farmers’ livelihood? This film not only presents the voices of conservationists, but also brings in the perspectives of fruit farmers and mountain villagers.

Giving Him a Chance to Return to Mountains
On December 3, 2020, under the care of the Endemic Species Research Institute (ESRI) of the Council of Agriculture, the Formosan black bear of Mt. Dongmao, No. 711, was released into the Syue-Shan-Keng River Major Wildlife Habitat. Nevertheless, he traveled to an area where the Tgbin Tribal Community is residing unexpectedly soon after, and even entered a workers’ dormitory and opened the refrigerator searching for food. On January 23, 2021, the bear was caught in a trap in a bamboo forest and got injured again, where he was returned to ESRI for care and rehabilitation. The Forestry Bureau held several meetings with experts and finally decided to give him another chance to be released back into the wild. Most local residents were happy to see Bear No. 711 returning to the forest. But they were concerned about the bear becoming a nuisance again after the release. After a questionnaire survey and expert meetings, wildlife translocation was opted. The Danda Major Wildlife Habitat in Nantou was chosen as the release site because it has an intact forest environment, sufficient food sources, and it is far away from farms and human settlements.
On April 12, 2022, Bear No. 711 was released with a new serial number, 568. But soon after, he left the Danda Major Wildlife Habitat and continued to travel north into the mountainous area of Ren’ai Township in Nantou. The Forestry Bureau mobilized the Dongshih Forest District Office and the Nantou Forest District Office to monitor and prepare for emergencies day and night, in which numerous emergency meetings had been held. However, signs of the Formosan black bear of Mt. Dongmao disappeared in Wujie Mountain on May 6. After searching continuously, the remains of Bear No. 568 were found buried in the Wujie Mountain region of Nantou on May 9. It was a major blow to all personnel who worked hard to return the bear to the mountains.

Establishing Rational Human-Bear Relationship
Dr. Lin Hwa-Ching, Director General of the Forestry Bureau, said that an investigation run by the Nantou District Prosecutor’s Office found that the Formosan black bear was caught in two local Wujie hunters’ trap. Worrying that they would be prosecuted, they simply killed and buried Bear No. 568 in an attempt to destroy evidence. Three people involved in the case were thus indicted. If the hunters had immediately reported the accidental trapping of the bear when they found him, they would not have been punished and Bear No. 568 would have escaped death. However, this would require the hunters having complete trust in the authority, as well as understanding and tolerance for traditional indigenous hunting from the mainstream society. Therefore, there is still a lot of work to be done, including a continuous promotion of autonomous management of indigenous hunting to revive the spirit of conservation and sustainability of the indigenous culture; and a promotion of replacing traditional snares with improved hunting gears that can prevent inadvertent injury of non-target species. Furthermore, it is important to let more people and hunters know that they will not be held legally responsible for accidentally trapping bears due to agricultural damage control or traditional hunting, as long as they immediately report the incident and assist with the rescue. With regard to commercial hunting, the Forestry Bureau will work with the police to strengthen investigation and detection. In addition, the Forestry Bureau has included the Formosan black bear in the list of “Payments for Ecosystem Services” in September this year to encourage tribal communities residing in the mountains to protect bears by paying them ecological salaries. 13 counties and 60 townships have been evaluated as eligible areas for the “Payments for Ecosystem Services” demonstration program conserving Formosan black bears.

In addition to the premiere of The Death of a Formosan Black Bear - Life Records of 711 / 568 at the National Museum of Natural Science and a special screening at the Forestry Bureau, many Forest District Offices under the Forestry Bureau will also be working together on the promotion of Formosan black bear conservation. Screening events have already been held in key mountain tribal communities across Taiwan where bear distribution hotspots are located to help the public better understand bear emergency rescue reporting, autonomous hunting management, and the use of improved hunting equipment. All of which are efforts to foster a rational relationship of coexistence between humans and bears through a conservation initiative. Anyone who is interested is welcome to visit the bureau's official Facebook page, “the Forestry Bureau - TW Forest” for screening information. In order to fully utilize the value of the film, the Forestry Bureau is also willing to provide free license for any public and private agencies to screen the film.
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