The Balance Between Taiwanese Indigenous People’s Hunting Rights and Wildlife Conservation

Written by Amanda Liao (Environmental Reporter)
Translated by Yi-Hsin Liu

Editor’s Note: The present article is the seminar report of ‘Salvation in the Wilderness,’ offering a multifaceted discussion of indigenous hunting in Taiwan.

An old hunter said, ‘I can’t give up hunting. I have been hunting my whole life.’

Hunting culture is prevalent among Taiwanese indigenous traditions and has maintained local food security for a thousand years. While being an important basis of cultural practices, indigenous hunting also played a role during the time when the wildlife in Taiwan could hardly survive due to commercial hunting. As a result, hunting has become a complex issue.

TheWildlife Conservation Act regulates hunting behaviours and restricts indigenous hunting to traditional cultural or ritual hunting in order to ensure the preservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Scholars have pointed out that hunting for self-consumption has never stopped. In order to bring the law closer to reality, indigenouslegislators of the Legislative Yuan (the highest legislative body in Taiwan) re-initiated an amendment to the Wildlife Conservation Act last year (2016) with the purpose of granting legal guarantee to indigenous people’s practice of self-consumption hunting. However, even though wildlife conservationists agreed with the idea of self-consumption, they held different views about its definition; the amendment to the interpretation of self-consumption triggered appeals to animal protection because animal rights activists believed that, based on the right to life, wild animals should not be hunted.

Against this background, scholars and experts from different fields and backgrounds and with different opinions were invited to express their views on the hunting issue at the seminar ‘Salvation in the Wilderness: Heading towards the Balance between Taiwanese Indigenous People’s Hunting Rights and Wildlife Conservation.’ The seminar was held in November 2016 by ‘Wuo Talk,’ planned by the ‘Study Group of Contemporary Thoughts on Animals’ and supported by the ‘Love Life, Cherish Animals’ project of the School of Veterinary Medicine at National Taiwan University. The present article aims to explore hunting-related issues against this background.

The Purposes, instead of the Methods, Determine the Sustainability of Hunting

The temptation for mass hunting is usually driven by commercial interests. Kurtis Pei (裴家騏Pei Jai-Chyi), dean of the College of Environmental Studies at National Dong Hwa University, analysed the collapse of wildlife populations caused by several mass killings of wild animals in Taiwan from the historical point of view. The result revealed that all the mass killings are related to commercial interests.

In the 17th century, Japan, China and the Netherlands’ demands for deerskins resulted in the mass hunting of the Formosan sika deer (Cervus nippon taiouanus). The once widespread Formosan sika deer on the island of Taiwan was consequently, driven to extinction in the wild by 1969. Tsao Yung-Ho (曹永和), an Academician of Academia Sinica, suggested in his studies that the amount of deerskins exported annually was approximately at 200,000 pieces in the beginning of Dutch colonisation (1624–1662), at 30,000 pieces in the late period of Dutch colonisation and the beginning of the Kingdom of Tungning (1662–1683), and at 9,000 pieces in the beginning of the reign of the Qing dynasty(1683–1895). At the time, the indigenous people in Taiwan hunted deer primarily for food, bride prices, or atonement purposes. However, after making contact with the outside world, they began to offer the outside world deerskins in exchange for daily necessities and luxury goods - hence the expansion in deer hunting and transformation in their consumption habits.

In other words, although not hunting for self-consumption or cultural rituals, with excellent hunting techniques, the indigenous people threatened the wild animal population out of economic gain. As Chinese people were also hired to hunt deer on the island of Taiwan during the period of Dutch colonisation, this phenomenon was not limited to the aborigines. However, the image that the aborigines were good at hunting had been deeply imprinted. Did the image make the subsequent legislation and implementation appear to target particularly the aborigines?

The purchase of furs of the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura), the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), and the Chinese otter (Aonyx cinerea) during the period of Japanese colonisation may be the main cause that drove the above-mentioned species to the brink of extinction. Hunting guns and ammunition were both regulated (not forbidden) under Japanese colonisation. According to media reports at the time, the amount of the Chinese tiger cats’ furs (i.e. leopard cats) purchased in 1933 reached more than 1,000 pieces in only half a year, and Pei estimated the annual amount at 2,000 pieces. The leopard cat population might reach 5,000 at the time, but even so this should be considered excessive hunting which made the population unable to recover until now.

Pei stated, ‘Commercial hunting does indeed harm the wildlife population, which is why intervention in hunting management is necessary.’

Actually, hunting management can be traced back to theHunting Act 1949, but it was not properly implemented in rural and mountain areas as it should have been, which resulted in the ineffective management. On account of the control of guns and ammunition related factors, the Hunting Act was frozen in 1973 and was no longer applicable. At the time, wild game restaurants in Taiwan were in their booming stage; commercial hunting, therefore, remained rampant. Consequently, foreign scholars dismissed theHunting Act as ‘merely an empty talk on paper.’

TheWildlife Conservation Act, which came into force in 1989, further restricted hunting to self-consumption hunting only, almost wiping out the commercial hunting. Before that, about 80 of 100 animals hunted were sold to wild game restaurants because of commercial incentives. Pei believes that the Wildlife Conservation Act deserves recognition for its enforcement in rural areas which has helped to reduce the market of wild game.

Legal Restrictions Contradict Traditional Indigenous Culture

However, the practice of daily hunting has never stopped. Pei quoted the following for example: there have been 328 indigenous people sentenced for daily hunting since 2003, and the related cases have numbered 229. Heroes in the culture of tribal hunting were reduced to captives. Did this law enforcement comply with the principle of fairness? Pei added another example that since 2005, it has been known that leopard cats have been hunted for sale in Miaoli County, but no one has been brought to justice.

Additionally, fishing, a habit of Han Chinese, is not controlled under the Wildlife Conservation Act, which seems to be a privilege. ‘All industrialised countries adopt fishing and hunting management, but Taiwan only adopts hunting management.’

In accordance withArticle 21-1 of the Wildlife Conservation Act, the authorities require Taiwan aborigines to apply for hunting one month in advance with the precise statement about the species and the number of wildlife to hunt. For the aborigines, how could they say what and how many they are going to hunt while these are decided by their ancestral spirits? As a result, the willingness of applying for hunting in accordance with the Wildlife Conservation Act is low among the indigenous tribes, which gradually drives indigenous hunting underground. Indigenous tribes are particularly deterred from applying for hunting because refrigerators of those who obey the law are inspected every day, which results in the ineffective management. Pei suggested that since daily hunting has continued for a century, there is no correlation between the aborigines’ practice of self-consumption hunting and the threat to several wildlife populations’ survival.

He further held the Formosan sambardeer up as an example. The deer was massively hunted in the 1960s and 1970s for antlers; consequently, the number of the Formosan sambardeer plummeted. However, once the commercial hunting was stopped, the population of the Formosan sambardeer recovered gradually by the 1990s. Moreover, the number of the Formosan sambardeer, the Formosan Reeve's muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi micrurus), and the regional Formosan rock macaque (Macaca cyclopis) is growing while self-consumption hunting has never stopped.

Pei believes that since intervening in the hunting management, the government should manage hunting effectively and implement the act fully. He suggested that the government could consider small-scale management, namely assigning tribes as management units. Compared to authorising the public sector to manage hunting grounds without taking cultural differences into consideration, devolving the power upon tribes could be a relatively practical way to attain the revitalisation of indigenous people’s hunting culture.

Pu Chung-Yung (浦忠勇), assistant professor of Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature (the present Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and Innovation) at National Chung Cheng University, wrote an article titled ‘Hunting without any Controls or Grovel Pleas?’ to emphasise the following: indigenous hunting has never been ‘a practice without any controls.’ The practice of hunting itself is heavily culture-loaded, and the taboos, norms and sharing of game among tribes are highly valued. Indigenous hunting has always been an activity which belongs to both individuals and tribes.

For indigenous hunters, hunting grounds are natural resources and property, and the types and numbers of species represent their livelihood guarantees. ‘Once the wildlife disappears, hunters will lose their hunting grounds, namely their important livelihoods.’ It is noted in the article that there are activities of animal sacrifice in indigenous people’s beliefs about animals, and many tribes cherish wildlife as partners, the indiscriminate hunting of which is unforgivable.

The cultural meanings carried by indigenous hunting include traditional land use, natural resources, religious beliefs, customary norms, knowledge of animals and plants, and tribal organisations. It is the practice of hunting that provides opportunities to revitalise and activate the culture. However, the current provisions relating to aboriginal hunting conflicts with indigenous people’s traditional hunting habits and their actual living needs to hunt. For instance, requiring indigenous people to specify the number and the species to hunt prior to hunting in the application is ‘absolutely taboo!’

Pu indicated that it is very natural for indigenous people to spend time in hunting grounds during agricultural slack seasons. ‘Hunting permit application, however, would break the traditional habit and straitjacket hunting into mere traditional cultural rituals, which makes the hunters find the application process inconvenient and the application itself violates the nature of hunting culture.’ Many hunters simply skip over the application and go underground. Consequently, hunting activities are turned into ‘poaching’ and stigmatised.

Guns are used for hunting in modern times, but hunters in Taiwan need to make their own shotguns. This is a strange spectacle in the whole world. Because of the overly strict regulations, all hunting activities were forced to go underground, despite their purposes (commercial, entertainment, etc.)

‘This is an abnormal phenomenon that everyone should confront because it is very likely that the abnormal system would result in the hunting that is even more uncontrollable and disorderly. This will be not only a loss to the aborigines, but also a loss to the nation and the society.’

Self-restraint Becomes Wildlife Resource Management

Pu expressed that in the annual calendars of indigenous tribes, including Bunun (布農族), Paiwan (排灣族), Rukai (魯凱族) and Atayal (泰雅族), there are many times when the indigenous people need to hunt for their seasonal rituals. The general public, however, often questions the necessity of hunting, saying that ‘as wildlife is no longer the primary source of protein, why do they continue hunting?’ or even stigmatising hunting as ‘barbarism’ or ‘cruelty.’ Furthermore, animal protection groups further believe that hunting should no longer exist in modern society. On the other hand, the indigenous tribes excitedly discuss and welcome hunting because it is an opportunity to connect with their ancestral spirits.

Ecosystems in Taiwan are very sensitive. Avoiding ecological damage is also the goal of associations organised by hunters whose premise of hunting is to maintain ecological balance, an inseparable principle of the hunting culture. ‘The Paiwan deems the Formosan Reeve's muntjac scared prey. Bones of prey hunted at the important festivals need to be kept to worship in houses of animal bones every year because the Paiwan people believe that families’ good luck is carried by prey.’ Pu noted that this reveals the different cultural values which should be respected.

‘Hunting is inseparable from culture because otherwise it is killing, pure and simple, and such behaviour is superficial,’ he stated. The revitalisation of indigenous culture has been ignited in Taiwan, and the indigenous tribes are looking for the roots of their culture under the condition that the culture has been marked with the symbol named hunting.

Scientific Monitoring, Local Knowledge, and Three Principles for Sustainable Hunting

Natural resource management might be necessary, but the sole focus on its use is not the path to sustainability. According to Pei, whether indigenous tribes have hunting ground management is a decisive indicator of sustainability. The elders of the Tsou (鄒族) told him: ‘The amount of prey is decided by ancestral spirits, so do not expect to get more!’ ‘This is the concept of totality, and we can achieve sustainability as long as we fully implement the monitoring of population management.’

For example, the number of the Formosan Reeve's muntjac and goats per unit area is almost fixed because they are territorial species. In Pei’s opinion, the area of a hunting ground is fixed because the number of a certain species of animal is also fixed. The only way to harvest more than one area can supply is to wait, hence the gradually established principle of discontinuous hunting, namely to hunt for a period of time and stop for a period of time with the purpose of providing enough time as rest periods for the wildlife to recover.

Another concept often challenged by the general public is that how to decide whether hunting can be legalised in Taiwan with the information about the number of animals absent? ‘When the media reported that one of the already rare wild Formosan Reeve's muntjac was hunted, the authorities failed to provide the relevant monitoring data in ignorance of the number of wildlife populations and the sustainable harvest quota. Indigenous people, however, are frequently sentenced for hunting.’ Pu suggested that legalising indigenous hunting for cultural needs should be accompanied by the hunting regulations of ‘reporting the number and species of prey and implementing totality control strictly.’ The latter should be enacted to survey and monitor wildlife regularly in order to determine the sustainable harvest quota.

Pei pointed out that industrialised countries can achieve sustainable use of natural resources by mastering the following three principles of management: spatial control and hunting territory control, control of hunting efforts (the number of hunters and the frequency of hunting), and harvest control.

Professor Tai Hsing-Sheng (戴興盛) mentioned in his article titled ‘How do the Conservation and Use of Wildlife Resources Move Forward after Disputes Arising from the Permission for Hunting Formosan pangolins’ that it is critical to make good use of local knowledge in addition to academic knowledge. ‘Governmental bodies tend to rely on academic knowledge; the indigenous tribes better master local knowledge. Both academic knowledge and local knowledge are important. ……The former is certainly important, but there is still a lot of knowledge beyond its scope, and importance of the latter is irreplaceable.’

He cited the overharvesting of native tortoises in Taiwan as an example. The standard approach of governmental bodies is to grasp the issue from a national level such as the state of illegal trade and to request academics to conduct ecological research. However, the information obtained by the standard approach cannot cover all relevant scientific knowledge because of the constrained manpower and material resources and the nature of academic knowledge. Eventually, the government is still unable to cope with the overharvesting of the native tortoises.

This is especially true of the detailed local information necessary for implementing conservation measures, including the information about the current distribution of native tortoises, poachers and methods of poaching in eastern Taiwan. Actually, most of the above-mentioned knowledge and information are grasped by indigenous communities. Similarly, even though the aboriginal hunters do not know the precise number of the Formosan Reeve's muntjac, they do have their own reliable criteria.

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