FYI SOUTH Magazine, January 2004








 By John Ross Translated by Vanessa Wu
Photos by Gerrut Norval and John Ross

      A continent's worth of biodiversity crammed onto a small island; Taiwan is truly a naturalist's wonderland. The country's location at the confluence of tropical and sub-tropical climate zones, its mix of continental and maritime species, and the mountain ranges that soar to almost 4,000 meters, combine to produce an amazing variety of flora and fauna.

      Taiwan, despite its small land area, is home to 70 species of mammals, around 500 species of birds (although only about two-fifths of these are year-round residents), and over 90 species of reptiles. There are nearly 2,700 species of saltwater and freshwater fish, over 30 species of amphibians, and 18,000 identified species of insects (including 400 butterfly species).

      Unfortunately, rapid industrial growth and Taiwan's high population density have so adversely affected the environment that few people have any contact with wildlife. For many city residents, seeing "wild" animals means a trip to the zoo.


     By the early 1990s Taiwan had justifiably acquired a reputation as an environmental black hole. Not only had pollution and hunting brought ecological ruin to the former island paradise, but Taiwan's demand for wild animal products was helping push many species in Asia towards extinction.

      Things finally came to a head in 1994 when the United States imposed limited trade sanctions. Taiwan's government pushed through new legislation, toughened penalties, and cracked down on the illegal wildlife trade. Sanctions were lifted the following year. Since then, great progress has been made in wildlife conservation.

      Protecting wildlife means protecting habitats, and although the government started late (the first National Park was founded in 1984) it has managed to set aside 19.5 percent of Taiwan's land area. There has been a sea change in government and public awareness of, and interest in, conservation.


      Many species such as the Swinhoe and Mikado pheasants, which were thought to be headed for extinction, have defied the worst predictions; their populations are currently low but relatively stable. The population of Taiwan's only monkey species, the Formosan Rock Macaque, has grown steadily.

      There are several wildlife restoration projects underway, including the Birdwing Butterfly on Orchid Island and the Formosan Landlocked Salmon in Shei-pa National Park.

     The most successful project has been with the Formosan Sika Deer--an endemic lowland subspecies that favors open grassy plains. It went extinct in the wild in the late 1960s, but stocks at Taipei Zoo and in commercial farms were used to establish a captive breeding facility in Kenting National Park in 1984. The population there has grown to about 300, of which half are now in the wild. Another 500 roam Green Island.


      Apart from monkeys and squirrels, the odds of seeing mammals in the wild are rather slim. Although birds make a better target, getting close can be difficult. The fauna you can most easily find and observe in detail are insects, lizards, and frogs. And these can be seen very close to home; in forests, along a creek, or in an orchard. It is not necessary to head for the hills. Many people think that most wildlife lives high in the mountains, but species richness is inversely related to elevation. Despite industrialization, urbanization, and destructive farming methods, there is still much to see in Taiwan's lowland areas.

     -Wildlife tends to be more active in early morning and late evening.

      -Night walks are great fun and very productive. Find a farm or park; take a good torch, and you'll find frogs and snakes. -Take your time. Walk slowly and quietly. Stop regularly, scan the landscape for movement and listen for sounds such as rustling leaves or the calls of birds and frogs.

      -Find a comfortable place to sit; wait and watch. Most animals are very sensitive to movement and sound. It's best to sit quietly and allow them to get used to your presence. Try to blend into the surrounding landscape. Wear natural colors and clothes that don't rustle.

      -Take binoculars and insect repellant.

      -Take and use field guides. They're filled with interesting information, and have great tips on how to identify and find wildlife.

      -Popular viewing sites have blinds/hiding places. Please use them to minimize disturbance to the wildlife. PLACES TO VISIT

      1) Fushan Botanical Gardens

      Located 20 kilometers west of Ilan City, the 1,098-hectare Fushan Botanical Gardens offers the greatest diversity of wildlife found in one small area. The park is open from 9 am to 4 pm, and the number of visitors allowed in is limited. It is closed on Tuesdays and during most of February and March. Entry is free, but you need to book a place, preferably a month in advance. This can be done through the Internet (http://fushan.tfri.gov.tw/a002.htm). Tel: (03) 922-8900 ext.103

      2) Mount Nanren

      Mount Nanren in Kenting National Park is a unique lowland forest habitat. As with Fushan, visitor numbers are restricted. It is closed on Tuesdays; hours are 8 am-5:30 pm. Visitors need to book a place by sending their name and ID number through the Internet or by phone. Nanren Office: (08) 881-1095. Kenting National Park Office (08) 886-1321. (http://www.ktnp.gov.tw)

      3) Other places

      For the more adventurous naturalist, two of the best areas are Mt. Dawu Nature Reserve in Pingtung County, and the eastern part of Yushan National Park.