by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 為野生動物而走 行動聯盟/Facebook

AROUND 4,000 DEMONSTRATED on October 29th against the prevalence of strays killing wild animals in Taiwan.

The protest materialized out of online calls for action to be taken on the issue, rallying a number of students from colleges including National Chiayi University, National Taiwan University, National Taiwan Normal University, and National Tsing Hua University. These calls began through Facebook and other social media platforms in September, with students aligning with environmental and animal protection groups.

Demonstrators sought to draw attention to the fact that there are over 160,000 stray dogs in Taiwan. These were framed as being a risk to endangered species such as pangolins, Formosan Serow, and Taiwanese leopard cats, of which the latter has only 500 remaining individuals. Nevertheless, this was also articulated as harming birds and other wildlife. The number of attacks by strays on wildlife has reportedly increased by three times in the past ten years.

Photo credit: 為野生動物而走 行動聯盟/Facebook

Organizers stated that this would be the first of an annual march. Participant animal protection groups included the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, the Leopard Cat Association of Taiwan, the Taiwan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan. The main organizer was Taiwan Walk for Wildlife.

Organizers stated that they realized the problem was a systematic one and that the 160,000 strays that exist in Taiwan today would not disappear overnight. Nevertheless, they called for greater public awareness of the issue, and criticized the government for a failure to implement no-feeding policies in areas where strays could potentially threaten endangered wildlife.

In particular, participants sought to draw attention to how pets are often abandoned in Taiwan, leading to the issue of strays. Many people in Taiwan believe that pets can simply take care of themselves if left out in the wild, leading to the issue of strays. Otherwise, there are individuals who feed strays even when this contributes to issues regarding strays. Apart from wildlife being threatened, stray dogs can prove a danger to people, though there have been government projects for relocating stray dogs away from sensitive habitats.

No-kill policies were implemented in shelters in Taiwan six years ago, following the social outcry that ensued after the documentary Twelve Nights called attention to how strays are put down after twelve days. Yet alternatives are still scarce as to how to deal with the issue.

Animal protection groups, too, called attention to how there is a failure by many members of the public to differentiate between endangered species and pets. This, too, is a contributing factor to issues with strays.

In general, it has historically been an issue with the animal protection and animal rights movement in Taiwan that there is a disproportionate focus on cats and dogs from the public, to the exclusion of other animals–never mind the effort of activists to push back on this.

Photo credit: 為野生動物而走 行動聯盟/Facebook

This is all the more an issue at a time in which a declining birthrate in Taiwan, given the unaffordability of having children, has led many to turn toward caring for their “fur children.” Pet owners are now a large enough demographic that politicians seek to appeal to them with campaign promises such as building play facilities for pets.

Indeed, it is probable that for elected politicians, protecting endangered species will take a backseat to appealing to voters. As such, it may only be through mass mobilizations that politicians are incentivized to take action on the issue. This remains to be seen. Certainly, it is probable that there are many more voters who care about stray dogs and cats than protecting wildlife threatened by strays. To this extent, religious practices such as fangsheng continue to involve the release of strays as a karmic virtuous act, even when this often leads to released animals being unable to survive in the wild, or if this involves them being raised in inhumane conditions for their entire lives. It would not be surprising if there are continued attempts to front the issue of strays ahead of the election by activists, then.

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