Baby panda Yuan Zai has been spotlighted by the Taiwanese media since her birth in July 2013. While many have gone to Taipei Zoo to see the young bear, some have questioned why the panda has received so much media attention compared to Formosan black bears, which were voted the most representative wildlife of Taiwan back in 2001. Yuan Zai's parents were gifts from mainland China to Taiwan and are considered part of an act of diplomacy.
Since January this year, in addition to the wide and constant media coverage of the pandas in Taipei Zoo, the Taipei City Government has been hosting an exhibition of 1,600 papier-mâché pandas designed by Paulo Grangeon to promote wildlife preservation. Even though the artist also designed another 200 papier-mâché Formosan black bears and one tree frog for the exhibition, the public attention has been mainly on the pandas. Some have criticized the government's active role in the public promotion of pandas.
Forestry Bureau wildlife conservation section head Kuo-Chang Lin attempted to clarify the situation by explaining the source of funding [zh] for pandas:
Recently many people have been asking this question: why does it seem like our government only cares about the pandas, [which are gifts] from China, and not the Formosan black bears endemic to Taiwan?
The Council of Agriculture and Taiwan's national parks currently has a budget of millions for the conservation of Formosan black bears. On the other hand, the government does not fund the conservation of pandas. Taipei Zoo (partially funded by the Taipei City Government) has its own budget for pandas. In addition to that, they have raised a lot of funds for pandas from companies wanting to promote their businesses.
Pandas are internationally recognized as a representative of wildlife preservation. For example, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) uses the panda as their organization's logo, and as such it has become a symbol for the conservation of all kinds of wildlife. We can therefore say that these pandas came to Taiwan to visit their relatives the Formosan black bears, which will help promote their conservation. Whilst we are treating our panda guests well, we should not ignore the initial intention [concerning the conservation of black bears].
Huang further explained the difficult situation [zh] Formosan black bears face:
There are about 2,000 wild pandas here. Based on recent estimates, there are only about 200-600 Formosan black bears. Both types of bear are endangered, but the population of Formosan black bears is particularly worrying. The pandas that travelled to Taiwan [were raised in the world's best conservation area]; they could never imagine the kind of threats faced by black bears, which include insufficient commitment and action from the government and our people for conservation, lack of funding for conservation and research, increased levels of illegal hunting, and their consumption either as food or for medical purposes. If we look at the annual budget for Formosan black bears over the past 20 years, it comes to about two million Taiwan new dollars (about 65,000 US dollars). In total over the past 20 years we have spent 43 million Taiwan new dollars (about 14.1 million US dollars), which is equal to the annual budget for black bear conservation in Japan.
In March 2013, the Formosan black bear officially became the mascot of Taiwan's Tourism Bureau [zh] and is responsible for promoting tourism in Taiwan. During protests against the controversial Cross-Strait trade agreement with China, the Formosan black bears were also chosen by some protesters as a symbol of Taiwan.
This post was proofread in English by Georgi McCarthy.