Finding the Middle Ground Between Indigenous Hunting Rights and Animal Rights in Taiwan

Written by Chinghui Liao, translated by Sam Robbins.

This article is the abridged form an original article from the Life Conservationist Assocation. Read the original article here.

Image credit:_YT_3050_水鹿 by Lonelyshrimp/Flickr, license public domain

Hunting traditions are common across many indigenous communities in Taiwan, and maintaining food security has been an important cultural practice for thousands of years. Recently, however, certain endangered animal species have faced greater risk due to commercial hunting. These cases often involve indigenous communities, and this has made the issue difficult to resolve. In order to protect a functioning and biodiverse ecosystem, the “wildlife conservation law” regulates hunting behaviour and limits legal practise to only specific indigenous ceremonies. This law did not actually stop hunting, so the Aborigine Constituency tried to amend the law in 2016 in order to protect indigenous hunting tights. In order to protect a functioning and biodiverse ecosystem, the “wildlife conservation law” regulates hunting behaviour and limits legal practise to only specific indigenous ceremonies. This law did not actually stop hunting, so the Aborigine Constituency tried to amend the law in 2016 in order to protect indigenous hunting tights. In addition to disagreements surrounding conservation, this amendment was also met with criticism from animal protection groups, who saw hunting as a challenge to a universal right to life.

It Is the Goal, and Not the Method of Hunting, That Determines Whether or Not It Is Sustainable

Commercial interests are typically the largest forces that encourage large-scale hunting. Professor Jai-Chyi Pei, director of NDHU’s College of environmental studies, has analysed historical instances of species extinction due to over-hunting in Taiwan and has concluded that all were the result of commercial considerations. In the 17th century, there was a significant increase in sika deer farming as a result of a desire for deerskin from Japan, China and Holland. This deer, which had previously been common in Taiwan, was no longer present in the wild as of 1969. Historian Ts’ao yung-ho of Academia Sinica has previously stated that roughly 200,000 deer pelts were exported every year following the onset of Dutch control [which began in 1624]. At the end of Dutch control and the beginning of the Koxinga period [1661-1683] roughly 30,000 pelts were exported, and only 9000 by the time the Qing period began (in 1683). At that time, indigenous people had been hunting deer primarily as a food source or to use as a marriage gift, or for sacrificial purposes. After contact with the outside world, they started to trade deer products in exchange for daily and luxury goods. This led to a massive expansion in deer hunting. 

Furthermore, despite not being intended for personal or ceremonial use, indigenous communities took advantage of their comparative strength in hunting. They caused a threat to wildlife in the pursuit of economic advantage. Although this trend was not limited to indigenous communities — during the Dutch period, Chinese settlers also came to be deeply engrained. This perhaps partially explains why later legislation has also been so clearly focused on regulating indigenous communities. 

The market for fur clothing in the Japanese era (1895-1945) was likely the main reason that clouded leopards, leopard cats and otters all faced extinction. Hunting guns and ammunition were not regulated during that period. According to a report in 1933, the purchase of “mountain cats” (more commonly known as leopard cats) furs had reached 1000 pelts. Jai-Chyi Pei calculated the amount to be roughly 2000 a year and that the total population was only around 5000. Unfortunately, this amount of hunting was too high, which seriously depleted the population. “Commercial hunting does hurt wild special, and this is why management strategies are necessarily” Jai-Chyi Pei has said. 

The management of hunting in Taiwan can be traced back to the 1949 hunting law.  This law, however, did not relate to rural and mountain areas, making the law severely ineffective. The law was eventually frozen due to controls on guns and ammunition that came into effect in 1973—the law in the current period no longer applies. Although the law was frozen, 1973 saw the most significant development for “mountain products stores” in Taiwan. As hunting remained common, eventually Taiwan became considered a country with protection laws only existent on paper in the eyes of foreign observers. 

In 1989, the “wild animal protection law” came into effect. Jai-Chyi Pei has argued that this law deserved praise for managing to reduce the production of “mountain products.” Previously, encouraged by commercial interests, roughly 80% of all hunted animals were sold to “mountain product stores,” but as the new law only allowed hunting for individual use, commercial hunting effectively came to an end. 

How the Law Limits Indigenous Hunting Rights by Conflicting With Their Traditional Culture

That being said, daily hunting practises have never fully come to an end. Professor Jai-Chyi Pei argues that from 2003 to 2017, there have been 229 cases which have led to 329 indigenous people being prosecuted for hunting. Those who had been renowned as heroes in the tribal hunting cultures have now become criminals. Nevertheless, are these laws actually fair? Professor Pei has also noted that — although it is known – in Mialoli – since 2005, there have been instances of illegal hunting and selling of tigers — no one has been prosecuted. 

In addition, the wild animal protection law has nothing to say about fishing, which is a form of hunting more commonly associated with Han communities. It has thus almost become a kind of special privilege: “All industrial countries manage fishing rights, and we only manage hunting rights” Professor Pei has said. 

Article 21-1 of the wild animal protection law requires indigenous hunters to apply for a government permit one month before hunting. Moreover, hunters are to clearly state which animals, and in what quantity, they intend to hunt. Professor Pei has argued that “for indigenous groups, how can they state what they intend to hunt and how many before they receive their ancestor’s blessing?” Indeed, naming the number of animals to be hunted before the proper time is considered taboo in many indigenous cultures. Professor Pei also explains that “this has made many indigenous groups unwilling to apply according to the law, leading to hunting becoming increasingly covert and underground. The application process also leads to endless bureaucratic inspections and check-ups, which have made indigenous groups unwilling to apply and thus made the regulation system inefficient.” As the process goes underground, a new stigma has emerged around illegal hunting behaviour. 

 Hunting has existed in Taiwan for hundreds of years. The risks of endangerment faced by many wild animals in Taiwan has nothing to do with indigenous hunting intended for community usage. Taking the Sambar deer as an example, he notes that they were hunted into near extinction in the 1960s and 1970s. This is because of a demand for their horns. However, after commercial hunting was banned, the population was restored by the 1990s. In addition, although community-usage hunting has never stopped, the population of Samber deers, Reeve’s Muntjac and regional macaque populations are all on the increase. 

He argues that if the government wants to regulate hunting, they need to do so effectively and appropriately. Thus, if the government were willing, smaller-scale regulations that take the tribe as a united whole, and if they consider allowing tribes to become involved in their regulation, it will likely be much more useful than undifferentiated management by the civil service. Pu Chung-yung, assistant professor of Taiwanese Literature at NCCU has also pointed out that hunting has never been without restrictions. It has long been subject to many tribal rules and regulations.

Indigenous hunters see hunting groups as both a natural resource and a source of profit. They have thus generally been careful about protecting animal populations. “If the animal populations ever disappear, hunters will lose their hunting grounds, and will thus lose the resources they live off of” Pu has said. Many indigenous cultures have mourning practises for animals, and many see animals as a partner to be respected and not hunted without good cause. 

Sechn Yeong-Shyang Chiang of Academia Sinica has also discussed this topic. He suggests that “the relationship between indigenous groups and nature is different from the way Han peoples interact with animals and the environment.” Further still, he  argues that “If we could better understand this relationship, it could become the basis for a native Taiwanese ethics of human-animal interaction different from Western theories”. He also proposes some challenges, such as the status of animals and women hunters in indigenous cultures. Finally, he suggests, through constant dialogue and open discussion, indigenous hunting culture can be made healthier and more robust and become a basis for indigenous pride. 

Chinghui Liao is a freelance environmental journalist based in Taiwan interested in ecological conservation and promoting biological diversity

This article was published as part of a special issue on animals and society in Taiwan.


  1. The law regulates rights and obligations of a society’s members. The purpose of law is manifold such as creating a fair society, supporting a prosperous society, enabling a stable society, protecting the privileges of a few, and many more. Obviously some purposes don’t coexist harmoniously with some others. The law making body sets priorities among the recognized purposes and has to negotiate a compromise when there is a clash of purposes.

    Currently only human beings are recognized as members of a society. Therefore, animals cannot have rights as would be the right not to be killed.

    However, human beings have the right to a healthy and productive ecosystem. Conservation is necessary but not sufficient. Balanced biodiversity is essential. Predators maintain balance. Hunting humans are predators that have the potential to intelligently maintain balance even during environmental change. Over thousands of years aboriginal culture evolved the knowledge and the rituals to preserve balance.

    Human beings need a sound cultural basis to prosper. If their culture becomes meaningless and withers, they themselves wither, as can be observed all over the world with aboriginal communities that decay into drug abuse and social breakdown.

    If communities of aborigines are entrusted with taking care of ecosystems, they are able to revive their culture and thus regain superior skills to maintain balanced biodiversity. Vibrant aboriginal cultures are the best protection against commercial over-exploitation of ecosystems if we allow them to take control of nature reserves and learn from them lessons for our cultivated ecosystems.


  2. There is a middle ground for all to live in harmony and move forward. When Taiwan government organize hunters and together apply modern science with modern hunting and wildlife management, everything will improve. Humans are part of the natural world and need to protect the part of the world they live in. The extremes of human activity continues to destroy the environment. The solution is not simple, and will require people of determination, integrity and intelligence to solve the problem. How far have we progressed as humans, and what is our potential to survive will be determined. Extreme actions will condemn us to another 50 years of a miserable and poor management of our land, our people and all living things. In the end you do the right thing, or you don’t and history will judge you.


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