Wild animals in Taiwan

Taiwan is home to about 122 mammal species most of which are small rodents such as squirrels and mice. There are also larger mammals such as the Formosan black bear, leopard cats and some deer species however most of them are endangered and so the chances of seeing them are low. The only mammal which are easy to encounter are the Formosan macaques, a monkey species endemic to Taiwan. On top of that almost 300 spider species, 50 snake species, around 400 species of butterflies and over 600 species of birds can be found in Taiwan.

When traveling in Taiwan I did several hiking trips into the forest areas of Taiwan and I wondered which wild animals live in Taiwan. Some of I know because I’ve seen them. Regarding mammals: Near Hualien at Taroko National park I saw some monkeys high up in the trees and a goat like animal standing halfway a rocky cliff. While hiking Caoling historical trail I saw a small deer-like animal running away into the woods however it was to quickly for me to take a photo. After researching I think it was either a muntjac or a Taiwan Serow I saw but I am not sure.

On my bucket list is the Formosan black bear but I am aware that this is an endangered species, so it is extremely rare to spot. I hope this species can survive and grow in numbers.

Also I saw many many spiders, on my second trip to Hualien there were so many spiders! I was traveling in the middle of spider season I think. There were several hiking trails but I didn’t really enjoy walking as I needed to continuously look above my head to check if I wasn’t walking into a spider web!

My hostel in Hualien also advertised about going whale watching. Whales and orca’s migrate pass Taiwan and also dolphins can be seen. I never tried this tour but maybe it is something I would do in the future.

While hiking up Yangmingshan mountain I saw some colorful lizards which I’ve never seen before. They had a kind of blueish tail and were sitting in the sun on the stairs. When getting close they would run to the rocks to hide. Also I am aware that there are (venomous) snakes in Taiwan. Luckily I have never seen any snakes on my path and I hope I can keep it that way

I did some research so hereby a short list of some of the animals which you should look out for when going hiking in Taiwan.

Mammals of Taiwan

The Island of Taiwan is about 135km wide and 380km long and lies about 160km from mainland china and about 360km from the Philippines so it is not a surprise that the island doesn’t have much big Mammals. However due to the isolated location they do have some animals which are endemic to Taiwan and are not found anywhere else.

Formosan black bear

Where does the formosan black bear live?
The Formosan black bear only lives on the island of Taiwan and it can be recognized by a white moon shape on its chest. It can live up to 35 years and is a smaller bear species. Since 1989 the species is listed as endangered animal and it is estimated only between 200-600 bears live in the wild. They live in the mountain forestry areas of Taiwan. It is extremely rare to see one in the wild as they are shy animals. Since 1990 only around 1,017 sightings have been reported. Most sightings are nearby the National parks (yushan-, -Taroko and Shei-pa National parks) and Nature reserves like Lala mountain and Shiwan ghost lake preserve.

The Formosan black bear is also the National tourism mascot of Taiwan.

Formosan Black Bear

Abu0804, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Formosan sika deer

What are Formosan Sika deer?
The Formosan sika deer is a small deer species. Which lived near the coast and lower area of the lands. Since the 17 century when the Dutch arrived in Taiwan the Sika deer was heavily hunted and as more people lived on the island less and less space for the sika deer was left. The last real wild Sika deer is thought to be killed around 1969. Luckily some captured populations still existed. And since a couple of years these the population of Sika deer has grown again and even some animals have been released into Taiwan’s Nature reserves.

Formosan sika deer of Daqiu

SuOllie, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Formosan Serow and Formosan Reeve’s Muntjac

What are Formosan Muntjac?
The Formosan Muntjac is a small deerlike animal about the size of a large dog. A fully grown Muntjac will weigh about 10 kg. It prefers living in large broad-leafed forests with thick vegetation so that enough food and shelter can be found. The Formosan muntjac can be found everywhere in Taiwan and is mostly found while hiking in the mountains between 500-2000m. Sometimes it can be heard nearby as it makes an single-toned, loud dog-like barking sound. Formosan muntjacs are not endangered.

What are Formosan Serow?
The Formosan Serow is a slightly larger animal and weighs about 30kg. It has a brow fur and can easily be recognized with the small horns on its head. Both male and female Serow have horns. Serows are not easy to spot and are mostly found during dawn and dusk when the graze in small numbers. They eat ferns and leaves. They are good climbers and can climb steep slopes and rocks. They can be found at Yushan national park, Nanhu- Hsuehshan and Siouguluan mountain as well as in Taroko National park. Taiwan Serows have been listed as a rare and valuable species.

Actually now I think of it, I might’ve seen a Taiwan Serow when I was at Taroko National park

長鬃山羊

user:peellden, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons: Taiwan Serow

Formosan Reeve's muntjac

KaurJmeb, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons : Formosan Reeve’s Muntjac

Flying squirrel of Taiwan

When you say squirrel, most of the time I do not find this an animal very interesting to look out for. You will find the common grey squirrel in down town Taipei at Daan park or at the Chiang kai Shek Memorial park easily. However I am talking about the Red-and-white Giant flying squirrel of Taiwan.

Where can I find flying squirrels?
This squirrel has a very dark red, brownish fur with a white head and belly. The Taiwan flying squirrel are slightly smaller than other flying squirrels around south-east Asia and they weigh between 1- 2 kg. It lives in the forest (1200- 3750m) in Taiwan. In the day it sleeps and at night time they come out to find food. They eat mostly fruits, nuts and small insects. It can glide or fly from from one three to another, hence the name flying squirrel.

SYT0605 白面鼯鼠 (25461142908)

lonelyshrimp, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Formosan rock macaque

The Formosan rock macaque is possible the mammal which you can most easily encounter if you know where to look. I captured this photo of a lonely male Macaque sitting in a tree at Taroko Gorge. In general they live in groups of up to 20. They are not on the endangered list. Their Diet consists of fruits, leaves and insects. And are essential for the forest as they spread seeds of the fruits as they forage. Males can be recognized as they are slightly bigger than the females.

The governments actively tries to discourage this to reduce human- monkey interaction. These animals should not be fed when you meet them.

Leopard cats in Taiwan

What do Leopard cats look like?
The leopard cat is a small animal which has about the size of a normal cat but it’s fur looks very much of that of a leopard: Yellowish with dark stripes and dots.

Where do Leopard cats live?
Leopard cats are native to southeast Asia however the subspecies on the island of Taiwan is endemic to Taiwan. The Taiwanese leopard cat is an endangered species, around 500 cats are left and they live in the lower hills of central Taiwan. The species are mostly threatened by reduction of habitat and cars (roadkill).

Can I spot Leopard cats in the wild?
The chances of seeing one in the wild is very slim as they are nocturnal and hunt during the night. They mostly prey on small birds and rodents and are no danger for humans.

Leopard Cat Tennoji (crop)

Kuribo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Formosan clouded leopard extinct….or maybe not?

The Formosan clouded leopard is endemic to Taiwan. It is a subspecies of the clouded leopards in south east Asia. The leopard weights about 10-20 kg. And can be recognized by having a tail half the size of that of its cousin counterparts.

Did clouded Leopard live in Taiwan?
The clouded leopard is known to have lived on Taiwan. Records dating from the 13th century have already talked about this animal. Also in the 19th century clouded leopard pelts where used for trade. The local Taiwan Paiwan tribe consider this animal sacred and it is on the protected list by the Taiwan Forestry Bureau.

Are Clouded leopards extinct in Taiwan?
The last clouded Leopard has officially been reported to be seen in 1983. But there is hope, according to scientists during talks with indigenous hunters they have been told that they spotted and captured clouded leopards in the 90’s but burned their bodies for fear of being prosecuted by the Taiwan government for infringing the wildlife conservation act. They not specifically hunted the leopards but did kill them when encountered.

LeopardusBrachyurusWolf

Joseph Wolf, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From 1997 until 2012 a 15 year study has been conducted To see if there are still clouded leopards in Taiwan. During this timespan about 13000 cameras traps have been placed in a wide range of habitats. Although many prey species have been recorded not a single Formosan clouded leopard has been recorded. Therefore the Formosan Clouded leopard has been declared extinct.

Although The Formosan clouded leopard is regarded extinct, just a few years ago in 2019 two separate groups of rangers have claimed to see a clouded leopard climbing trees and cliffs. It is never confirmed this is true. But it is believed that if the animal still exists it might live in Yu-Shan National park or the Tawu Mountain area. It is in the animals nature to hide and be not visible and it wouldn’t be the first time an animal regarded extinct would pop up many years later. Let’s hope it is still out there!

Does Taipei zoo have clouded Leopard?
Taipei Zoo has two clouded leopards, however these are from the species coming from the Himalayas. The only known specimen of Formosan clouded leopard is a stuffed animal in the National Taiwan Museum.

Research has shown that wildlife population has increased because of better wildlife protection over the years and scientists are discussing if clouded leopards from other Asian locations should be introduced back to Taiwan. This is however a controversial discussion as it is unclear how a re-introduced species would affect the current ecosystem and if it would be able to survive.

Taiwan insects and spiders

Taiwan nature is abundant. It is thus no surprise many insects (and their predators) can be found in Taiwan. Some are fun to watch others are less fun to encounter. I try to sum up a couple of them:

Taiwan the butterfly kingdom

Why does Taiwan have so many butterflies?
I noticed that Taiwan has much more and also much larger butterfly species than I am used to seeing back home in the Netherlands. Luckily I’ve been capturing some of them on camera! After some research I actually found out that Taiwan is also quite famous for being home to so much butterflies and is also called ‘Butterfly Kingdom’. Due to the wide difference of landscapes in Taiwan, ranging from mountains, forests to valleys probably around 400 species of butterflies are known to be found in Taiwan of which around 50 species are endemic. Actually whenever you go for a hike in Taiwan probably you will see many butterflies. Especially during spring and summer season. Personally for me Shakadang trail at Toroko Gorge stood out for me. Seeing many (big) butterflies flying near the riverside trail.

Dragonflies and Hornets of Taiwan

When there are a lot of prey there are also a lot of predators. Some small predatory insects are dragonflies, the ones in Taiwan can grow quite big and can be found near ponds or small rivers. They are quite beautiful and harmless.

Less harmless are the so called ‘killer’ hornets in Taiwan. When hiking I saw several times a sign that there is a possibility of encountering them. However, of the many hikes I did, only once I actually thought by myself “Wow that is actually a big bee” and I carefully continued the trail until It was out of sight. When you encounter one, don’t try to anger it by trying to hit it and also don’t run away. Just stay calm and slowly move away.

Spiders of Taiwan

Around 300 species of spiders are named and it is expected between 3 to 4 times that many species can be found in Taiwan. I definitely wouldn’t recommend to watch the movie Arachnophobia before going to Taiwan ;).

Is the golden Silk Orb Weaver spider dangerous?
The main spider you will see is probably the Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider. This spider hasdistinct yellow with black colors and can grow quite big and feeds on insects, butterflies and sometimes even small birds. As far as I know, although the spider has a slightly venomous bite, it’s bite is not dangerous to people.

Are Taiwan spiders Dangerous?
Of all the species of spiders in Taiwan only 2 can be deadly when a bite is not treated in time. One is the red back spider, the other is one of the Macrothele spiecies. Also (imported) tarantula can be venomous. No dead by spider is reported as far as I know. Mainly due to good education and in-time treatment for the rare bites.

Is there a spider season in Taiwan?
The times I went to Taiwan in April and June I saw a lot of (big) spiders, especially at Taroko Gorge. When I was traveling to Taiwan in September and October a just saw a few, so there seems to be a kind of spider season. If you really are scared of spiders this is something to think about when planning a trip.

Snakes of Taiwan

The island of Taiwan is home to about 50 snake species of which about 10 are venomous. In general snakes can be found in forest areas, farmlands and the hills and mountain areas of Taiwan. They are more active in summer season than the winter season. I know in the rural areas Taiwanese people keep dogs, which will bark when they notice a snake is near.

What to do when you encounter a snake in Taiwan?

I’ve been to Taiwan now four times and went hiking a lot but luckily I’ve never encountered a snake. It is also one of the animals I prefer not to encounter.

Some quick tips for avoiding snakes:

  • Stay on the paths. Don’t go into long grass, forestry areas or brushwood.
  • Wear good (high) walking boots and loose pants.
  • Keep an eye on where you are standing or sitting when you take a rest.
  • Don’t go into the forest in the night, as most venomous snakes are active in the night.

When you encounter a snake, slowly move back and don’t make sudden movements. Most likely the snake will move away. If by any chance you get bitten by a snake then try to stay calm, try to remember how the snake looked like and seek immediate medical attention at a nearby hospital. For every species of venomous snake an anti-venom is available.

Field guide to Taiwan snakes

I found a very handy website made by a couple of hobby- herpetologists (e.g. the study of reptile and amphibian animals). In which they made a clear field guide about Taiwan snakes. On the first page you’ll find photos of all the snakes of Taiwan. A Triangle warning pictogram shows the venomous snakes. Clicking on the photos you can find detailed information about a specific snake.

Click here to go to their website.

Birds of Taiwan

Is Taiwan good for bird watching?
Taiwan has a rich biodiversity in avian species. Due to is geography and its isolation it has a high number of endemic and resident species. Also its geographic location makes that the island is used by many migrating birds as stop-over to rest, winter or breeding. In total about 674 species could be seen during the year. Below a table of the composition of Taiwan’s avifauna I found from a 2020 research conducted by the the State of Taiwan Birds Partnership (SOTBP). To me, looking at the number of Winter visitors, winter would be the best time to go birding in Taiwan.

Endemic species29
Endemic subspecies55
Non-endemic residents69
Summer visitors14
Winter visitors162
Transient Migrants91
Seabirds29
Vagrants (birds which keep moving)171
Outlying islands species36
Invasive species (with stable breeding population18
source: The State of Taiwan’s Birds 2020

A list of birds to look out for in Taiwan

With over 600 birds which can be found in Taiwan I think it is quite difficult to give you a comprehensive list of birds to look out for. So I will just give you a short list of some notable birds of Taiwan and link to the wiki page that species.

E stands for Endemic species
A for accidental sightings

Urocissa caerulea

Taiwan blue magpie Flickr user wagtail . Photo uploaded to commons by user ltshears, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My bird photography in Taiwan

While hiking in Taiwan I took some photos from birds which I would like to show you. I don’t think they rare birds I captured on camera but I hope you like them

Heron and Egrets in Taiwan
The photo on the left I took at one of the parks in Taipei, In the parks you can see many such birds near the ponds. Also lots of smaller birds can be found in the parks. The photo on the right I took during a hike to a waterfall in Yilan. Looking down from above I saw it walking on top of the canopy. Although the birds look alike you can see a distinct difference in color of the beak.

During hikes I saw also many colorful birds. As I am not a bird expert (also not a photography expert haha) it was hard for me to recognize and or take photos of birds. Below some smaller birds I have managed to capture on photo. I couldn’t identify the left bird, after some research I think it might be a kind of warbler? The right one I identify as a Male Russet sparrow but might as well be just a normal sparrow. I would love to hear from a bird expert which birds those are. Let me know in the comments below if you know.

Do eagles live in Taiwan?
Not sure whether I saw eagles, hawkes or other predator birds but I’d like to call them eagles 🙂
The photo with the greyish background I took while hiking the Caoling Historical trail. From the trail you can see multiple eagles circling around high above you. The right photo shows a distinct silhouette of the bird. Maybe someone can help me identify it. You can put the name in the comments below this article.

The photo with the blue background I took at HerMei Mountain (新店和美山) near Bitan (South-Taipei). it seems these birds or a bit smaller, maybe those are . Quite cool about that trip was that a local person was copying the sounds of the birds. He was doing that so good that the birds would reply him and fly closer above us.

Sea life around Taiwan

Due to the geographic location of Taiwan many fish migrate past the coast of Taiwan. When there is plenty of food this in return attracts also bigger sea mammals like whales and orca’s. Over half of the worlds Whales and Dolphin species Can be spotted migrating pass Taiwan.

Whales and Dolphins in Taiwan

During ‘whale watching season’, that is from May until November in some Taiwanese cities like Hualien, Yilan and Keelung whale watching trips are organized. I’ve never been on one but I read some of the reviews and it seems good value. Although you need to be lucky to spot whales. Most of the time you will see groups of dolphins and that in combination with the view of Taiwan’s Mountain cliff coastline is well worth the trip.

Whale watching, Hualien 花蓮港賞鯨 - panoramio

MickeyDisney, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tropical fish and reefs of Taiwan

The waters around Taiwan are home to a diverse and abundant amount of sea life. It is estimated around 1500 species of (tropical) fish live there. Also coral reef can be found at the northern and southern parts of the island of Taiwan and also near several small islands such as green island and Orchid island. However marine life is under pressure due to human activities. Lets try and preserve it!

Little Bali Island Coral Reef Beach(WEI, WAN-CHEN)-小巴里島珊瑚礁岩灘 3

WEI, WAN-CHEN(魏琬臻), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons : southern tip of Taiwan.

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