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Exhibition points to threat to Formosan black bear

TAIPEI -- Amid Taiwan's love affair with a young panda cub, conservationists are trying to raise public awareness of the threat to the survival of Taiwan's only native bear — the Formosan black bear — with a special exhibition on the animal.

The Endemic Special Research Institute organized the exhibition on Formosan black bears, which began on Jan. 22 at the institute's base in Nantou County, to draw attention to the native bear and away from Yuan Zai, the Taipei Zoo's panda cub, according to institute researcher Hsieh Chung-pu.

Visitors to the exhibition, which will run through the end of November, will be able to learn about the black bear in-depth, finding out, for example, that it is a good tree climber, Hsieh said.

Also, black bears are omnivorous and don't take the initiative to attack people, Hsieh said, citing field surveys by researchers at the institute.

“The black bears will just walk away quietly” when encountering humans, and they eat mostly plants, he said.

The institute, run by the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture, is the main agency responsible for breeding the native bear and increasing its population.

Despite the institute's efforts, however, Formosan black bears remain endangered and face a fight for survival, with only 200-600 of the animals left in the wild, Hsieh said.

Taiwan's mountainous terrain is estimated as being capable of sustaining a population of up to 7,000 Formosan black bears, but now they are rarely spotted.

Institute Director Fang Kuo-yun said their numbers have been hurt by damage to their habitat and illegal hunting, with broken black bear palms found in forests or even in restaurants selling local delicacies, pointing to the lack of awareness of the need to protect the animal.

The Formosan black bear, the largest land animal in Taiwan, is a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear. It is distinguished by a white V-shaped mark on its chest.

The exhibition in Nantou County is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except for Mondays and Jan. 30-31 (Lunar New Year's Eve and Lunar New Year's Day).

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