Taiwan Court Upholds Laws Restricting Hunting

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s Constitutional Court on Friday upheld several key provisions of two laws that restrict hunting, in a setback to the island’s Indigenous rights movement.

Although the court struck down some parts of the laws — including a rule that would require hunters to apply for permits — it declined to overhaul the restrictions altogether, stating that Indigenous hunting culture had to be balanced against the need to protect the environment and wildlife.

“The Constitution recognizes both the protection of Indigenous peoples’ right to practice their hunting culture and the protection of the environment and ecology,” chief justice Hsu Tzong-li said on Friday. “Both fundamental values are equally important.”

Conservationists and animal rights activists welcomed the decision. In March, 57 animal rights groups in Taiwan issued a joint statement, arguing that protecting hunting culture was not comparable to guaranteeing the right to hunt freely.

offered a formal apology to Indigenous peoples for centuries of “pain and mistreatment,” and said that she would take concrete steps to rectify a history of injustice.

The rights movement has lately centered on Mr. Talum’s case, which many activists see as linked to broader issues of Indigenous land rights and self-governance. They say that the government’s laws restricting hunting are unnecessary since Indigenous hunting culture is already circumscribed by a complex web of taboos and rituals.

Experts said the ruling on Friday reflected the government’s lack of understanding of Indigenous culture.

“This explanation restricts the Indigenous right to hunt from the cultural perspective of non-Indigenous peoples,” Awi Mona, a professor of Indigenous law at National Dong Hwa University in the eastern city of Hualien said in an interview.

Taiwan’s Supreme Court had dismissed Mr. Talum’s appeal in 2015, but in 2017 it granted an extraordinary appeal to have the case referred for constitutional interpretation. Mr. Talum did not serve any jail time.

“This outcome was a little unexpected,” Hsieh Meng-yu, Mr. Talum’s lawyer said in an interview after the court ruling was announced. “We thought the Indigenous rights movement would keep moving forward — we didn’t think that there would suddenly be this decline.”

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Taiwan Hunters Contend With Taboos, and Trials, to Uphold Tradition

ZHUOXI, Taiwan — The smell of damp earth filled the air on a recent moonless evening as the hunter wove through the dense mountain thicket, clutching a homemade rifle and with only the narrow white beam of a headlamp to illuminate his prey.

But the hunter, Vilian Istasipal, was confident. He knew this terrain well.

A member of the Bunun, one of 16 officially recognized Indigenous groups in Taiwan, Mr. Vilian, 70, has been hunting on this land for more than 60 years.

Some of his earliest memories growing up in Zhuoxi, a town of around 6,000 people in eastern Taiwan, involved going on dayslong hunts with his father deep into the mountains where he learned skills considered essential to being a Bunun man, like how to lay a trap, shoot a flying squirrel and skin a boar.

“We kill them, but we also pay respect to their lives,” Mr. Vilian said in the courtyard of his home in Zhuoxi, also known as Takkei in the Bunun language.

formally apologized to the island’s Indigenous people for centuries of “pain and mistreatment,” the first leader to do so.

Awi Mona, a professor and expert on Indigenous law at National Dong Hwa University in the eastern city of Hualien. “What we are actually discussing is the Indigenous right to self-government on natural resources.”

Hunting has always been a central part of Taiwan’s Indigenous culture. In Taiwan’s verdant East Rift Valley, the Bunun people maintained the practice even after they were forced out of their traditional mountain homes in the 1930s by the colonial Japanese government.

Many Bunun resettled in the foothills in towns like Zhuoxi, nestled among neatly tended millet and rice fields and scattered with papaya trees and pink bougainvillea.

Then, as now, Indigenous hunting culture was circumscribed by a complex web of taboos and rituals. Traditionally, only men can hunt. Among the Bunun, flatulence and sneezing are some of the many bad omens that might lead a man to call off a hunt. Same goes if a hunter has a bad dream.

In Bunun culture, hunting female deer in the spring, when they are likely to be pregnant, is off-limits. Hunting black bears, seen as friends, is also discouraged.

Among other groups, like the Seediq and the Truku, hunting culture is similarly restricted by long-held customs, at the heart of which is a belief in the fundamental balance between man and nature.

“When I see an animal, I feel that I’m destined to meet it,” said AlangTakisvilainan, 28, a Bunun hunter. He drew a distinction with hunting in America, where the use of semiautomatic rifles effectively amounted to bullying the animals, he said.

“That humans and animals can go head-to-head in a fair fight,” he said, “I think that’s an incredible thing.”

While only Indigenous people can use guns to hunt, they are barred from killing protected species like leopard cats and Formosan black bears, and are required to use certain types of traps, knives or old-fashioned homemade rifles that can jam easily and are some times unsafe. The simple firearms are modeled after those used long ago by Indigenous hunters and must be loaded with gunpowder before each shot.

They must also apply for permits, a process which includes answering questions some hunters regard as absurd. Asking what animals a hunter plans to target, for example, is considered an insult to the Indigenous belief that the animals are gifts from ancestors.

Although enforcement of the laws has been uneven, arrests have continued over the years. So just to be safe, Bayan Tanapima, 62, said he was applying for a gun permit even though he had been hunting since he was a teenager.

“It’s very strange — we have lived for so long in the mountains so why do we have to do this?” Mr. Bayan said. “It’s like they don’t approve of the Indigenous way of living.”

Conservationists have argued that loosening such restrictions would be ruinous for the environment and wildlife, and animal-rights advocates decry what they consider cruel practices. But defenders of local hunting traditions note that Indigenous people have been caretakers of Taiwan’s environment for thousands of years and that such expertise should be respected.

Ciang Isbabanal, a police officer who works on Indigenous issues in the nearby town of Yuli, said that while hunting laws were necessary to curb extreme behavior, the cultural taboos on hunting were so deeply rooted that close outside supervision was unnecessary.

“I hope the country can respect their culture and give them space to live freely,” said Mr. Ciang, a Bunun who also hunts when off-duty. “Having too many legal constraints doesn’t work.”

Back in the forest on a recent night, Mr. Vilian, the 70-year-old hunter, strode up the mountain to where he knew there’d be trees heavy with just-ripened olives — a favorite snack of deer and boars.

Mr. Vilian found a small boar writhing in a trap. According to tribal customs, it was too young to be killed just yet.

After wrapping it in his shirt, he headed home to a late-night feast of braised bamboo shoots and deer meat soup.

But before they could dig in, the ancestors needed to be thanked. Mr. Vilian, his son, Qaivang, and Mr. Bayan, his cousin, dipped their fingers in a bowl of rice wine. They sprinkled a few drops on the boar — now flailing in a rusty cage. The boar was later given to a relative to raise for several years.

“Today we are very happy,” the men chanted in the Bunun language. “To our ancestors and mountain gods, we thank you for giving us this food.”

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Endangered Gazelles Make a Comeback on the Edge of a War Zone

KIRIKHAN, Turkey — Turkey’s southern border with Syria has become a place of hardship and misery, with tented camps for people displaced by a decade of war on the Syrian side and a concrete wall blocking entrance to Turkey for all but the most determined.

Yet amid the rocky outcrops in one small area on the Turkish side, life is abounding as an endangered species of wild gazelle is recovering its stocks and multiplying.

The mountain gazelle, a dainty antelope with a striped face and spiraling horns, once roamed widely across the Middle East, and as Roman mosaics reveal, across southern Turkey as well. But by the end of the last century, it was hunted almost to extinction, with only a dwindling population of 2,500 left in Israel, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In Turkey, the gazelle was forgotten and thought to no longer exist. The only ones officially recorded were a subspecies, known as goitered gazelles, in Sanliurfa Province in the southeast of the country.

The rediscovery and survival of the mountain gazelle in Turkey has been largely thanks to one man and his love of nature.

Yasar Ergun, a village teacher who became a veterinarian and professor at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University in the city of Antakya, heard in the mid-1990s from an old hunter that there were wild gazelles in the mountains along the border with Syria.

A keen hiker, he set out to try to find them. Barely 25 miles from Antakya — the ancient city of Antioch — Kurdish villagers knew about them and shepherds occasionally saw them. The gazelles live on the rocky hillsides, where their markings and coloring make them almost invisible. But they come down in groups to graze and find water on the surrounding agricultural land.

The professor spotted his first one in 1998 and, after a decade of observing them, estimated that there were about 100 living in the area.

With a small grant for a teaching project, he bought a camera and telephoto lens, which led to a close encounter and a breakthrough discovery.

“It was the mating season,” he recalled. “I ran to the road, and the male ran toward me to defend his females. It was very unusual.”

When he examined the photos, he realized the gazelles differed from those in southeastern Turkey.

“This one was light brown, with some parts white, and the horns were completely different,” he said. He was sure he was looking at the mountain gazelle, but found little interest in his claims in academic circles, he said.

“I sent the photographs around — professors just laughed,” he said.

He drew on the help of Tolga Kankilic, a biologist, who gathered samples of dung, fur and skin from the remains of dead gazelles for genetic testing, and found that the DNA matched that of mountain gazelles.

The discovery presented Mr. Ergun with an altogether more important task: to help the gazelles survive. There were several threats to them — lack of water and habitat especially — but by far the greatest danger was illegal hunting. Hunting is allowed only under license in designated areas in Turkey, but illegal hunting is rife.

The gazelles had disappeared completely from other regions, including Adana, farther west, where American soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base used to hunt them 20 years ago, he said.

“The end of a genetic source is the same as the collapse of Earth,” he said. “Nature needs biodiversity.”

He won a grant from the World Wildlife Fund in Turkey for a grass-roots project with local villagers and bought mountain gear and amateur walkie-talkies for several shepherds, who began monitoring the gazelles. They dug basins in the rock to collect water for the gazelles, though it took the animals months to trust the water source.

With his knowledge of village life, Mr. Ergun began softly, gaining the support of local shepherds, educating children to protect the gazelles and even encouraging a local Kurdish legend of a holy man who lived with the gazelles and milked them.

With the hunters, Mr. Ergun and his helpers adopted an approach of traditional courtesy and respect, drinking tea with them but never mentioning their hunting.

“We never tried to use force to stop them,” he said. “We would say, ‘Hello, we are from the Nature Project.’ Sometimes silence is more powerful than talking.”

The local people were Kurds, a mountain people with their own language and culture — and a history of resistance to the Turkish state.

“If you make an enemy, just one, in 10 years you will have 10 enemies, and in 100 years you will have 1,000,” Mr. Ergun said. But as the shepherds began monitoring the gazelles, the hunters got the message.

Mr. Ergun also needed the cooperation of the Turkish Army, which has a base in the area. The gazelles occupy a narrow strip of territory along the border a few miles wide and less than 20 miles long that is mostly a restricted military zone.

Yet the military restrictions, and the outbreak of war across the border in Syria 10 years ago, helped the gazelles in unexpected ways. Turkey built a cement wall along the border and dismantled an old buffer fence, which opened up more territory for the gazelles and protected them from straying into Syria, where hunting remains a threat.

The project grew, securing government support for a breeding center and sanctuary for orphaned and injured gazelles. The gazelles began to thrive, increasing from about 235 in 2012 to more than 1,100 last year, according to an official count by Turkish government agencies.

In 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey declared a protected area of 50 square miles for the gazelles, and plans for a cement factory and quarries in the area were canceled.

Turkey is enormously rich in flora and fauna, but is industrializing rapidly and lagging in nature conservation, said Sedat Kalem, the conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund Turkey, which gave two small grants to help start the gazelle project. The government did not step in to rescue the gazelles, and it was left to a local initiative, he said.

“But we were happy to be instrumental in this result,” he said. “The locals have done a great job. If everybody can take care of their own environment, that is the key for overall success for protecting biodiversity.”

Not all of the villagers are convinced of the importance of protecting the gazelles.

“It’s actually a pain,” said Nuray Yildirim as she baked flatbread in an outdoor oven in the village of Incirli. “There are too many of them, and they eat the chickpeas and the wheat.”

But others described the gazelles as a blessing, even holy.

“They have been living here since the time of our ancestors,” said Mehmet Hanafi Cayir, a farmer. “The richness they bring will come to our door.”

Mr. Ergun’s attachment is primarily scientific. He said the increase in gazelles had brought wolves and even hyenas back to the region, which reflects a healthy ecosystem.

He also has plans for the future. As the numbers increase, he wants to reintroduce gazelles to other areas of Turkey and beyond.

“The habitat is suitable for these gazelles,” he said.

“Maybe we can reintroduce them in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq,” he added. “They lost them just 30 years ago. The people of the Middle East suffered so much. We should offer them this.”

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The Making of a ‘European Yellowstone’

It was my first visit to Romania’s Southern Carpathian Mountains in 2018, and I was standing beside a derelict sheepfold high above the Dambovita Valley. To the east, the imposing limestone cliffs of Piatra Craiului, or Kings’ Rock, towered overhead. All around me was a panorama of deep valleys, soaring mountains and the ever-present forest.

Beneath a canopy of old-growth trees, an array of animals — wolves, European brown bears, boar, eagles, lynx — were thriving.

Here among the Fagaras Mountains, the highest reaches of the Southern Carpathians, and tucked away in an unlikely corner of the European Union, an immense conservation project was underway. The ultimate aim: the creation of a “European Yellowstone.”

Piatra Craiului National Park, would create a chain of parks and a wide-reaching wildlife reserve.

rewilding initiatives began to gain global momentum, Romania stood out to me as a remarkable example.

While many countries were working to replace what they had once lost, Romania, in many ways, was battling to preserve what it still had.

increasingly threatened.

Instead of simply photographing the landscape and wildlife, I began to embed myself with F.C.C. rangers as they conducted their daily operations: wildlife monitoring, the replanting of forests, patrolling to deter logging.

Since 2018, I’ve conducted around 10 trips to the region. I’ve spent days bundled up in the back of a ranger’s S.U.V., and clutching my large-format camera as we track wolf packs on snowmobiles.

Over time, I was able to establish a camaraderie with many of the rangers. Occasionally, on patrols with the wildlife monitoring teams, they would invite me to assist in their duties — including the collecting of fresh bear scat.

The chief wildlife ranger, Bogdan Sulica, once took me to the site of a bear attack on a small farm just outside the commune of Saticul de Sus. Despite my efforts to assist in ranger duties, he laughingly advised that I stand on a hill and stick to taking pictures.

After the fall of communism, the Romanian government began a restitution program for nationalized land, resulting in a new ownership structure for a significant portion of Romania’s forests. In the years that followed, logging companies bought many of the privately owned forests, leading to large-scale deforestation.

To further complicate matters, wildlife populations in the Fagaras Mountains have been subjected to severe levels of poaching and overhunting. To combat this, F.C.C. has founded its own hunting’s association and has purchased hunting rights for several large tracts, totaling around 160,000 acres. By purchasing the rights and foregoing hunting, they can effectively protect the animals within the tracts.

While there’s a broad consensus in Romania for preserving these areas, tensions have sometimes arisen among the surrounding communities. Some locals feel as though certain land was protected without their input, especially those with strong ties to hunting. Others have seen protected animals — bears, wolves, lynx — damage their property and prey on their livestock.

My documentation of F.C.C.’s work in Romania continues, having organized itself around the three primary facets of their initiative: wildlife monitoring, forest replanting and community outreach programs.

Creating a national park, I’ve learned, takes time. Progress is slow, and there will likely be many more unforeseen roadblocks standing between the foundation and the fully realized dream of a European Yellowstone. But, in time, through the combined efforts of F.C.C. and the people of Romania, a blueprint may emerge that others in the international community might follow.

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