Last week, I returned from a trip to Taiwan to visit relatives. Even though my trip was focused on family (and was the first vacation to a foreign country that I have taken in five years), I could not pass on a chance to do some field primatology. As an added bonus, I got to see my family gear up for a couple of hours of hiking “in the field.” They did great!
Only one nonhuman primate is endemic to Taiwan, and that is the Formosan rock macaque (Macaca cyclopis). To find them, we traveled to Kaohsiung, the largest and most populous city in southern Taiwan. Kaohsiung has its own airport but is also easily accessible from Taipei, the capital, via high-speed rail. Right along the western edge of Kaohsiung and adjacent to the Taiwan Strait is Shoushan (Mt. Longevity). The mountain is 354 km tall with an area of about 1116 ha. Due to the rapid development of the city over the past 60 years, Shoushan is isolated from other forests in Taiwan, making dispersal impossible for Shoushan macaques. Shoushan has been a restricted military base since the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945) and was only partially opened to the public in 1989. The military presence has protected the forest from the city’s expansion. Today, the mountain is accessible to hikers through a series of boardwalk trails leading to various resting stations for tea, exercise, or nature viewing. The area includes several upturned coral reefs and extensive water penetration has resulted in an undulating terrain with hillocks and steep valleys. The flora include large Ficus trees, dispersed evergreen shrubs, orchids, acacias, and a large percentage of ferns. Razor wire lining the edges of some routes serve as a constant reminder of the military presence.
Macaques are present all along Shoushan trails, and also venture down into the city, where they commonly invade homes and harass humans for food. While the government has forbidden feeding the macaques, the practice continues, fueled in large part by their charismatic depiction in popular culture. Their familiarity with humans leaves the macaques very well habituated. Hsu and Lin (2001) have counted 16 macaque troops living in Shoushan. Here are some photos!