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Crisis threatening endangered bear species: 'It is impossible to know … what the consequences of mass extinction would be'

"Some escape, often losing a toe or paw, some are illegally killed and sold on the black market."

“Some escape, often losing a toe or paw, some are illegally killed and sold on the black market."

Photo Credit: iStock

The Formosan black bear, an endangered species endemic to Taiwan, is under threat from poachers. 

Experts warn that there may be as few as 200 remaining in the wild, with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature warning that the species is vulnerable to extinction.

What is happening?

Over the past three years, nine suspects have been indicted for poaching these bears — however, there are likely many more cases that go unreported.

One of the biggest threats the bears face is the "snaring crisis" that exists in Taiwan's mountainous forests, where hunters set ground snares ostensibly to catch wild boar or deer.

The snares are extremely widespread, however, and trap all kinds of animals indiscriminately. When a bear is trapped, it is often injured, and the hunters often opt to kill it illegally and sell its parts on the black market.

"Some escape, often losing a toe or paw, some are illegally killed and sold on the black market.  Development is also a serious threat, particularly road building. Also, as tourism increases in bear habitat, the risk of conflict with humans rises," Bear Conservation wrote.

Why is this concerning?

Any species becoming extinct is a great tragedy, and it has ripple effects throughout the entire ecosystem. 

"Since living organisms interact in dynamic ecosystems, the disappearance of one species can have a far-reaching impact on the food chain," the European Parliament wrote. "It is impossible to know exactly what the consequences of mass extinctions would be for humans, but we do know that for now the diversity of nature allows us to thrive."

What is being done about it?

According to an op-ed in Mongabay, it is vital that Taiwanese national park and forestry officials get a handle on this crisis before it is too late.

"Do national park and forestry officials have a grasp on just how serious the snaring situation is in this country, of how many snares are out there, who is setting them, and how to combat it?" Gregory McCann, who wrote the piece and is an assistant professor at Taiwan's Chang Gung University, asked.

McCann also calls for enforcement against spotlight hunting, where hunters go out at night and use spotlights to look for "eye shine" and then shoot anything that moves indiscriminately.

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