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.”
HONG KONG — Of all the problems created by the pandemic, Sisi Wong did not expect that finding parking would be one of them.
Travel to Hong Kong was cut off. Residents were urged to stay home. And besides, Ms. Wong lived in a remote northern pocket of the territory, where rolling hills outnumbered skyscrapers and few visitors ventured even in normal times.
Yet there she was, arriving home to find trash scattered near her house, taxis clogging the single narrow road and her usual parking spot occupied by a stranger’s car.
“We’ve called the police, we’ve blocked the road, but there are still so many people,” Ms. Wong said on a recent Sunday, as yet more cars trundled by her tiny village, which sits — to her newfound dismay — next to a photogenic reservoir ringed by weeping willows.
Paris to the Galápagos, the pandemic has brought one small blessing, to the relief of many locals: the disappearance of some obnoxious visitors. That’s also true in the postcard-famous parts of Hong Kong, where lines no longer spill out of designer showrooms and travel coaches no longer block the neon-lit streets.
But as foreign tourists have vanished, a new, local species has emerged.
Bored and trapped in an area one-third the size of Rhode Island, Hong Kongers have sought out the most far-flung, once-quiet corners of their territory of 7.5 million people, mobbing nature trails and parks with the kinds of crowds previously limited to the Causeway Bay shopping district.
Even though the subtropical humidity can make being outdoors unbearable much of the year — and despite an abundance of mega-malls offering ample entertainment excuses to never leave their air-conditioned interiors — Hong Kongers seem to be experiencing the collective thrill of discovering nature.
75 percent of Hong Kong is undeveloped, much of it protected parkland roamed by wild boars and monkeys. Just outside the glittering cityscape is a quilt of islands and peaks ringed by the turquoise South China Sea.
At some of the island’s most popular nature spots, like Devil’s Peak, a rocky outcrop strewn with century-old military ruins, climbers now find themselves in standstill pedestrian traffic. Hikers scaling Lion Rock — a steep, feline-shaped mound that yields a breathtaking skyline view — can sweat on the ascent without fear because the lines for photos are so long, they are able to dry off before their first selfie.
The crowds aren’t the only problem. Crumpled surgical masks dot the trails like strange new flora. Environmental groups have fretted over illegal camp fires. The number of mountain rescues by the Fire Services Department nearly tripled last year, to 602, as some newbie hikers perhaps pushed themselves too far.
“They’re often taking a tourist mind-set to the countryside,” said Vivien Cheng, the director of community partnerships at the Green Earth, a sustainability nonprofit. “If someone discovers a place with a very beautiful rock, then that place is doomed.”
regain equilibrium,” according to a government adviser who recommended the parks’ establishment.
For a while, few residents felt so unbalanced. In the 1980s, just around 12 percent of Hong Kongers said they hiked in the parks, according to survey data.
But over the past two decades, park usage has more than doubled. Outdoor activity spiked after the outbreak of SARS in 2003, leading the government to expand and promote the trails.
Even so, the pandemic influx has been on a new level. The parks logged 12 million visitors in 2020, an 11 percent increase from the year before, according to government statistics, even though public barbecue areas and campsites were closed for more than seven months because of the virus.
Hong Kong Hiking Meetup. Of course, Mr. Van Hoy says, he is thrilled to see more people venturing beyond the high-rises. When he first joined the group eight years ago, it had about 8,000 registered members. It now has 25,000.
illegal dirt biking that has left once-lush hilltops barren.
The government said it punished more than 700 people last year for violating anti-epidemic measures in the parks and had deployed workers to remind people to pick up their litter; Ms. Cheng said enforcement had not been strict enough.
She issued a bleak warning: “We’ll also need this countryside when the next epidemic comes, so we need to protect it.”
There are still refuges for those in the know. When the crowds get too dense at Lau Shui Heung Reservoir, Tsao King-kwun, a retired professor, drives to small villages nearby, where he likes to admire the traditional architecture. It’s a departure from his usual walking route around the reservoir, but Mr. Tsao can rest assured that the crowds won’t follow.
“Because they don’t know it,” he laughed. “This” — he gestured to the reservoir, where he had deemed the crowds acceptable for a walk that afternoon — “is quite obvious. They go on Facebook.”
spectacular orange, but she hadn’t seen it this year because of the crowds.
Still, she took solace in the fact that, as the seasons and foliage changed, so would the number of visitors. “After a while, there won’t be this many people,” she said. “They’ll all go to Tai Mo Shan” — Hong Kong’s highest peak — “to see the bell flowers.”
Elsie Chen contributed research.